Lana Del Rey - Born to Die
It is nearly impossible to view chanteuse Lana Del Rey with an objective eye.
After her song "Video Games" hit YouTube in August 2011, going viral and clocking up over 29 million views as of February 2012, the singer has had tongues wagging across the globe.
The nostalgic feel and emotive crooning of "Video Games" was enough to land Del Rey a record deal with Interscope and a performance on the iconic Saturday Night Live as well as the number six spot in the Triple J Hottest 100 for 2011.
Throughout her rapid rise, backlash has been close behind the singer, a New-York-born 25-year-old who previously sang under her birth name of Lizzy Grant. Her critics have been as vocal as her devotees, scrutinising everything from her live performances and her appearance to her overall authenticity.
The polarised debate surrounding this self-described "gangster Nancy Sinatra" has made her major label record debut, Born To Die, one of the most anticipated releases of 2012.
The record opens with the title track, "Born To Die", which sees Del Rey sing of living in the moment in the face of our mortality ("The road is long, we carry on / Try to have fun in the meantime"). It is the first taste of the album's immaculate production, with layers of violins and atmospherics creating an epic cinematic ambience. This rich soundscape is unsurprising considering the contributions of veteran pop producers Emile Haynie and Jeff Bhasker.
The melancholic "Born To Die" also introduces the theme of a desperate co-dependency ("Can you make it feel like home, if I tell you you're mine?"). As the album rolls along, it becomes clear that this narrative of pining for a lover constitutes most of the lyrical content. The song "Blue Jeans" sees her assert "I will love you 'til the end of time / I will wait a million years" while the more upbeat "Diet Mountain Dew" repeats the mantra "You're not good for me / But baby I want you".
This unrelenting notion of unhealthy obsession wears thin. Behind the lyrical clichés, which come to a head in "Without You", it is hard to get a sense of who Lana Del Rey is. She is by no means the first to base a pop album on heartbreak, with Adele's positive critical reception in 2011 proving it can be done to impressive effect. But where Adele captured different aspects of relationship woes, from empowerment to sorrow, Del Rey captures only one: a hopeless eagerness to please.
The few songs that deviate from this theme are a breathe of fresh air, such as "Carmen", the brooding tale of a 17-year-old partying as a means of escapism. "National Anthem" is another strong track, with hip-hop-influenced verses leading in to a big scale chorus commenting on the decadence of our day.
Being signed to a major label, there is little doubt that Lana Del Rey is a talented woman, and the larger-than-life sound of Born To Die makes it an easy and endearing listen. However, the repetitive nature of its lyrical content paints Del Rey as one-dimensional caricature, meaning that aside from the poignant "Video Games", the album is lacking in identity and genuine emotion. It's still early days though, and it will be a joy to watch where Del Rey takes us beyond the haze of the hype.
3 out of 5
For more CD reviews, check out our Reviews Archive.