Looking like some sort of Mormon version of Fiona Apple, the album cover for Lana Del Rey’s much talked about, much anticipated debut album shows a conservatively clad Del Rey in a plain setting. The cover is a mirror of the album itself, never completely going the distance of amazingness we were tacitly promised by all of the pomp and circumstance leading up to this moment. Opening with the title track, “Born to Die,” Del Rey shows her 90s savvy by putting all of the good songs at the beginning of the album.
The subsequent track, “Off to the Races,” explains the reasoning behind an early epithet from Del Rey’s embryonic career: “A gangster Nancy Sinatra.” With her mellifluous sounding vocals, Del Rey contrastingly drawls, “He doesn’t mind I have a Las Vegas past/He doesn’t mind I have a L.A. crass way about me/He loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart.” This particular brand of irony continues on “Blue Jeans,” another single we all know (but maybe no longer love thanks to that notorious Saturday Night Live rendition). Referencing James Dean doesn’t exactly help Del Rey in the inspired category either.
“Video Games” follows, which reached its overexposed pinnacle after being played during an episode of Gossip Girl, and therefore doesn’t really need to be dwelled upon. “Diet Mountain Dew” is where Del Rey’s tempo finally starts to pick up again as she drives home that whole Nancy Sinatra comparison and recites a chorus that essentially sums up the music industry’s current obsession with her: “You’re no good for me, but baby I want you.”
Del Rey continues with her patriotic motif (what is this hoe’s fixation on the American flag?) on “National Anthem.” Switching the sound of her voice to a replica of Gwen Stefani’s, Del Rey tells us another story about a dude: “He says to be cool, but I don’t know how. Tell me I’m your national anthem.” Don’t worry little Lana, you are our national anthem–until the next internet star is spawned. Del Rey also acknowledges another truth in this song that was probably gleaned from her New York years: “Money is the anthem of success.”
The next two tracks, “Dark Paradise” and “Radio,” are very similar sounding and sort of akin to some of the frothy bubblegum pop that appeared on Britney Spears’ (who Del Rey has freely cited as an influence) first two albums. Unlike Spears, however, Del Rey has the skill of making her songs seem more profound than they actually are because her similes make no sense. Therefore, if you admit to not understanding what the fuck she’s talking about, you sound like you’re too dense to comprehend a simple pop song. And even when the similes do make sense, they’re banal beyond belief (e.g. “Sweet like cinnamon” and “Pick me up like a vitamin”–vitamin being pronounced the British way).
“Carmen” is another anecdotal song about a troubled girl named, you guessed it, Carmen. I nodded off at several points during its duration and consequently cannot really tell you what the gist of Carmen’s plight is. Afterward, I felt compelled to get through an album I have officially dubbed “tailor made for Starbucks’ playlist.” So, here’s a succinct summary of the remaining songs, bonus tracks and all: “Million Dollar Man” exhibits Del Rey at the zenith of her lounge singer shtick, “Summertime Sadness” shows the trance music side of Del Rey and may have been written while standing and waiting for a subway to come during the heat of the summer (what other summertime sadness is there?), “This Is What Makes Us Girls” tells me nothing about what makes me a girl, “Without You” proves that Del Rey doesn’t even need to give a fuck about what her detractors say because, as she notes, “Everything I want I have,” “Lolita” is Del Rey at her most processed-sounding (granted she’s supposed to come across as a pedophile’s wet dream), and, finally, “Lucky Ones” is a discrepant close to the strong opening presented with “Born to Die.”
I’m not saying I dislike Lana Del Rey, though it may seem that way. I’m just saying that since my initial hopes for her began, I now found myself feeling like a parent who has just been informed that her daughter is switching from the surefire success of a business major to the uncertain future of a ceramics major (yes, you can major in ceramics).