When an apex recording artist departs, there is a panic as to what can possibly fill the void, as if the whole music industry didn’t get along fine before they existed and now flaps around like a partially severed and useless limb. Since Amy Winehouse popped her precariously-heeled clogs, one artist it has been suggested could fill her skyscraper beehive is American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey.
I promised myself I wouldn’t do reviews, save in exceptional circumstances. I feel justified in sharing my judgement on Lana Del Rey’s second album, Born to Die, as I am following up a previous post. In A Pair of Lips With a Woman Attached, I discussed her emergence and the subsequent suspicion aroused as to her bona fides. There were elements who were quick to label her a ‘manufactured artist,’ after questioning her credentials, based on a previous attempt to launch her career under her own name, Lizzie Grant. I’ll not repeat the argument, but I’ll go so far as to point out the whole music industry is a contrived construct, designed to make money. Think of the Pepsi Challenge. Coke is still Coke whether it’s served in a can or a plastic cup. The packaging is just a means of making it easier for you to spend your dollar. The only pure music is that which resides within you – the music of your soul. There are the occasional geniuses that seem to reach within and pluck your heartstrings, but mostly they’re just jobbing artists and all that should concern us is are they any good?
If I have a criticism of the album, it’s that it’s slightly formulaic. With the first single, the internet sensation Video Games, they struck viral gold, but I get the impression they then laid the template on a Xerox and pressed copy fourteen times. After a few tracks it’s clear it’s like a couple who, in middle age, discover something wonderful, like chicken tikka masala or the missionary position, and then proceed to have it every night for the rest of their lives. Variety, not extra curry powder, is the spice of life. The most telling track is Lolita, which is a reworking of a track from her withdrawn, self-titled debut album. In its original form, it’s a Duffy-esque up-tempo piece, with jangly guitars and organs that betray its 1960s influence, but here it’s adjusted into a style in keeping with the rest of the album and yet ill fits it, like a badly tailored suit.
Lana has one trick. It’s an old trick but a good one, based on the principle that sex sells. Her crooning alternates between high, sugary sweet and innocent, and low, sultry and enticing. It conjures both images of pigtails and lollipops, contrasted against those of a temptress. Musically, it’s a polished mash of orchestration over digital drums and bass, with the odd piano tinkle or sample thrown in, but that’s as far as the variety goes. With garage guitar bands like The Black Lips and The Vaccines enjoying a zenith, would it be too much to ask to expanded her 60s pop stylings to truly reflect the music of the era? Her first album covered more ground and, although not as professional, was as a result more interesting. Here, any anomalies have been jettisoned in favour of a sound more befitting her ‘gansta Nancy Sinatra’ persona.
There is a degree to which she is a contrivance of the industry. If there is a real Lana Del Rey, disguised behind the pout and perfectly coiffured barnet, it’s not to be found on this album, but, as consumers, we have no right to expect otherwise. What it is instead is a well crafted modern blend of hip hop and 60’s soul, moody and at times haunting, if a little lacking in diversity.