Face it you’re here because of one song, "Video Games." From the moment you heard those somber strings and mournfully plodding piano you were hooked, I know I was. It was an unmistakable melancholy, delivered by a voice that sounded strangely familiar. The harp bursts suggested a magical land of enchantment, free from burden, but we know better from singer Lana Del Rey’s words. “He holds me in his big arms, drunk and I am seeing stars,” she sings. Into that hypnotic world of love and hate, sex and rejection Del Rey brought us and we were powerless to leave.
Muted drum kicks buoy opener “Born to Die” and clatter into a shimmering static during the chorus. It’s a lucid opener, one that misses the mark, but still has us following Del Rey down the rabbit hole. As we continue on the journey, we see Del Rey fitting perfectly into Nancy Sinatra-sized boots on “Off to the Races” playing the ultimate femme-fatale. She revels in this on the magnetic hook, as her “old man” luridly watches her in a glass room.
That empowerment fades away on “Diet Mountain Dew,” where Del Rey breaks into faux-show tune singing over a propulsive drum beat. Wearily she sings, “You’re no good for me, but baby I want you.” Fully aware of her problems, but powerless to resist.
"Born to Die"
It’s been said that the string sections supporting Del Rey on the album sound the same. “National Anthem” dispels that notion, bearing a welcome resemblance to the string section of “Bittersweet Symphony.” It’s a song tailor-made for a summer day, gazing at the crackle of fireworks in the night sky, longingly staring into the heaven of a lover’s eyes. The celebratory ecstasy of the track lifts Lana into “Radio” where she gleefully mocks ghosts of lovers’ long-since-past. “How do you like me now,” she snidely asks, her “cinnamon sweet,” life a bitter pill to swallow for all those former friends.
“Carmen” is “Hot Child in the City” for the Y-Generation. An elegiac violin sets the stage for Del Rey’s haunting narration. “Darling, darling, doesn’t have a problem. Lyin’ to herself cause her liquors top shelf.” Carmen’s mean streetwalkin’ takes her to a host of beds, but none that she can call her own. At the song’s end, nothing has changed and she’s still “all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
Since the album dropped, a litany of critics has lined up to declare the record “dull” and Del Rey’s image manufactured. To which I can’t help but ask, when has great pop not been manufactured? The Ronettes were entirely a product of Phil Spector and are still attributed the pop splendor that is “Be My Baby.” They bemoaned that the brilliant “Video Games,” was a ploy. They piled on with the SNL performance, labeling it the “worst ever.” And what did Del Rey do? She took it all in stride, delivering an austere album of pop brilliance, rarely letting up. “The road is long, we carry on, try to have fun in the meantime,” she reminds us on “Born to Die.” Though that road is littered for Del Rey, she throws caution to the wind, cruising down a dark highway. Her golden hair blowing in a warm summer breeze.