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 The most telling track is Lolita, which is a reworking of a track from her withdrawn, self-titled debut album.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.
Now I don’t know if I’m ignoring the clique by including a foreword here, but I always think it’s nice when writers introduce what they’re about to say. Isn’t it nice? Isn’t it? Yeah. It is.
This week’s five tracks aren’t anything to rave on about in particular. There are some good tracks. Some. But 50% of the tracks I’m about to review are horse shit. Well, not horse shit. But they’re certainly close to being part of the dungheap. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m trying to be honest, and as an avid, avid fan of music I will stay true to my opinion. Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope what is said doesn’t ruin any careers!
Deep breath before the plunge, here goes.
As soon as I heard this, the Mighty Boosh theme song began playing in my head. Think of the ‘crimping’ that they made famous, and then think of this song. They sound alike, yes? Yes. They do. Compare the two until you agree. I think this song is very much the sound The Ting Tings would make if their front person was of the male gender. Although this song lacks in melody and singing, it isn’t without a tune. Very toe tap inducing, I’d expect to hear this in a teen angst moment on UK Drama Skins.
I’m hearing violins. Violins? From the girl who’s meant to be the next Lady Gaga. First impressions are that it would fit in well at a funeral or some other sort of bereavement event. Obviously, the song is about death and being prepared to die, but perhaps you could play this at the burial of one’s pet? If you’ve ever heard Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love, this will not sound unfamiliar. While the whispering is reminiscent of “I’ll protect you from the hooded claw” introduction from Frankie’s Christmas classic(?). The song is extremely pessimistic, just look at the title. I will not buy the album.
Obviously I’m far too young to have experienced the 80s, but this song reminds me of that era immensely. It’s the type of house beat that I’d expect to hear in a nightclub at the beginning of the rave scene in 1989. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this thumping from my local social club while they attempt to be gay-friendly. The introduction is very reminiscent of that famous beat Insomnia by Faithless. Repetitive, but not annoyingly so. Vocals wise, think Cee-Lo Green in his Gnarles Barkley era. I highly recommend this to anyone.
These Reigning Days – Changes
Surprisingly, I don’t have much to say about this one. Except that it’s very good, and I like it a lot. I extremely recommend buying this as soon as it released on whatever platform is popular in February. The song is a sort of love-triangle-come-bigamist-marriage between Coldplay, Bullet For My Valentine, Editors and Glasvegas. Though frowned upon in some societies, this marriage works extremely well, and I can’t get enough of it. It creates a relaxing atmosphere that is simultaneously very upbeat and catchy and damn I just can’t get enough. (Turns out I did have a lot to say).
Zenon – Love You Forever
I’m trying to listen properly and drown out the ringing sounds of Irish heartbreak pop, but all I can hear is Westlife. The singer’s voice doesn’t particularly suit the genre, the melodies are mismatched with the vocals and there is too much versatility concerning the verse and chorus. If this was placed in line with 1000 other love songs, it wouldn’t particularly stand out. Trying to be unique but failing. That’s not to say that he cannot sing well. Unoriginal but not unpleasant. Top marks for trying, though.
My first experience of Lana Del Rey was in October 2011, when her newly released breakthrough single Video Games appeared in one of those annoying YouTube adverts you can skip after a few seconds. I can’t recall the video I intended to watch, but I didn’t skip the advert, and when it had finished I searched for the original video and watched and listened.
Admittedly, my first thoughts were: ‘God, look at her lips! She’s like a pair of lips with a woman attached. She makes Angelina Jolie look like the before picture in an advert for a collagen implant clinic.’ But, after the fourth or fifth listen in a row, I’d started to realise, pout aside, it was a hell of an addictive tune. Hauntingly beautiful, catchy, old fashioned and yet fresh.
The homemade video for the single went viral and, at the time of writing, has achieved over seven million views. Her sudden catapulting to indie darling and internet sensation met with derision from the music blogging community, who pointed to her earlier lack of success under her own pedestrian name, Lizzie Grant, and her change in fortunes under her new, more glamorous persona, as a cynical marketing ploy. But I think it’s those bloggers who are the cynics. Rebranding is nothing new, especially in the music business. Who would buy an album by David Jones, Reg Dwight or Gordon Sumner? Probably fewer than would own one by David Bowie, Elton John or Sting. The name fits the sultry mystique of her voice, and the fact that it isn’t the one her parents gave her detracts not one jot from the apparent qualities of that voice.
In 2009, Del Rey, under her real name, released her debut album on a tiny independent label – later withdrawn due to poor marketing, but available to anyone with a good understanding of the functioning of the internet. It does much to dispel her label as a manufactured artist. It isn’t without fault – if I’m being critical, it’s lacking a little focus and professional polish – but what else would you expect from a debut artist and an independent release? Some of the styles of music don’t sit comfortably together, but at her best comparisons to Nancy Sinatra are obvious, with more electro moments reminiscent of Alison Goldfrapp and the occasional vocal trill Dolly Parton would be proud of. With a little tweaking, remixing and track reordering, the album could easily be rereleased pretty much as is – which I’m sure will happen should her success continue.
She doesn’t fit the traditional mould of a manufactured artist, and I can only surmise that the dislike she engenders amongst certain sections of the internet is due to her being a genuine phenomena in the making, albeit not one in which the hipster community has had any say. You suspect that there is a degree of resentment that her popularity is out of their hands, but the internet is the world’s first truly global democracy, where the people vote with their mouse buttons. Is it such an anti-cool crime to like something that’s popular?
It may be that in six months we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, but, if Video Games and its B-Side Blue Jeans are anything to go by, those too cool to listen to her first mainstream album will, I suspect, be missing out on a treat.