Lana Del Rey
Born To Die
, January 30th, 2012 06:01
All that fuss over one song? You'd think there'd been a murder at the White House. In July, 'Video Games' sparked an online frenzy that continued unabated to just last week, with Del Rey the head-fucked nucleus of a point-of-no-return for webzine music journalism, something like the post-Pitchfork equivalent of the God-wind climax in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. So if that's anything to go by, a full LP should just about unite heaven and hell, the Alpha and the Omega, Joanie and Chachi and The Osmonds, even though George is dead. It's an obvious one, but The Truman Show is applicable here. But specifically the badge worn by the 'Lauren' character, reading "'How Will It End?" Well, with not a bang but a whimper, if you want to know. As an artistic statement, Born To Die is neither good nor bad, just blissfully...serenely...uncontentious. And the bandwidth silence is golden. Normal service will resume shortly. We're sorry for the inconvenience.
Whatever they want to say (and they've said it all) she gives good 'ruined glamour', does Lana. While Born To Die's Valley of The Dolls thing may be a hackneyed aesthetic in the indie circles, the charts haven't seen it in years, and certainly not rendered with such lucidity. The album can also be commended for staying true to the shtick over the course of 12 songs; retaining its period verisimilitude in the face of a host of modern sounds (channeling Hollywood noir over a Gwen Stefani-style backing track is no easy feat.)
Most of all, though, even if it isn't an entirely original aesthetic, at least is is an aesthetic. For all of Gaga's electroclash art direction outside of the studio, her songs contain very little corresponding ideology or, on the whole, sonic traits. Del Rey, meanwhile, walks like she talks: a top-down vertical integration of image-form-content. In a pop landscape bereft of album concepts, Born To Die should be celebrated for at least trying. That said, aside from her dark, vaguely insane sexuality, and an undertone of sucking malaise, Born To Die remains anaseptically unthreatening spin on Coney Island melancholia, containing not nearly enough cuckoos-in-the-nest and bloody knives in the sink. But if the album's cautionary tale turns self-fulfilling prophesy, as is how the story is supposed to go, then will come the darkness, and maybe the real Lizzie Grant.
Even if they are recycled, there are more stylistic ideas here than in ten contemporary pop records put together. Think of any character archetype or scenario in America cinema, and Born To Die has it covered. From gangster's moll to small-town tramp, soulless Valley girl to gin-soaked lounge singer; scattered over golden-age Vegas, languorous 30s Palm Springs, and trailer-park Nowheresville. It's admittedly a confused melange of references, and too instructive to be elegant, more 'tell' than 'show'. The sheer volume of touchstones becomes inflationary before the close, so in order for it to work, which it just about does, the material required a deft performance from its protagonist. Fortunately the ingenue plays it perfectly, making tiny adjustments to her persona from track to track, to suit the shiny lie in question. If her role in writing the songs was minimal, she nonetheless understands them wholly, as a screen actress might her director's vision. And if she comes across as glazed (naysayers will call it 'wooden'), it's all part of the illusion, the image of the star as a projection in suspended animation. A lost art in the internet age, it's precisely that distance, that sense of untouchability, which renders Del Rey mysterious; a comfortably numb semi-goddess imprisoned in the isolation of stardom, both on Born To Die and, since her rise to ubiquity, in real life as well. Suffice to say, it's brain-twistingly meta.
In the end, her debut is essentially a lattice of Fellini-esque postmodernism. Several songs even concern corrupted starlets and the seductive nightmare of fame and riches. The difference is, Fellini never had the internet. Blurring the line between dreams and reality gets a whole lot more complicated when you have a fourth dimension to play with.
It's tempting to interpret Born To Die as the culmination of over 70-odd years of pop industry progress, in terms of the dark art of myth-making. It's now as if life is imitating art in real time, worse, in digital time, with both tiers - life and art - forward-planned to coincide. Like Gartside-style détournement with a six-figure marketing budget, the executives have both constructed her glamour and constructed her album about glamour, before setting both spheres in motion at once. It's like the pop song's forever-war on our collective sense of reality coming full circle; the end of the line in our journey into the dream, folded into infinite others. It all stops here, the whole world sucked into some void behind the red curtain.
Of course, Lynchian undercoat aside...it's basically just a good old massive pop album, which can be a scary thing in its own right: the air of soulless, monolithic power and the unseen presence of shadowy string-pullers etc. But it's not exactly the end of the world. Unmistakeably however, after a prolonged period of jaw-dropping hype - the giant feedback ouroboros that is the internet spinning towards critical mass – as a result a definite air of finality runs parallel to the final release of the album, the effect multiplied on disc by Lana's own apocalyptic fantasies. Add to that the quasi-metaphysical connections some have made between Born To Die's money-death America and the teetering western economy, and you start to wonder if our splintering minds can take another Madonna album.