Blood drops are splattered on the liner notes to Born to Die, the impassive, career-suicidal first album from a near fictional singer. Goodbye Lana Del Rey, we hardly knew you.
But then, how could we, when it is so apparent that she never even knew herself. On the trip-popped slow-swirl of Radio, the Coney Island gal whose family knows her as Lizzie Grant sings about her new life, which is “sweet like cinnamon” as she lives the dream and digs her stature: “Baby love me ’cause, I’m playing on the radio / how do you like me now?”
Getting on the radio, was that the goal, the validation? And then what, a coveted spot on Saturday Night Live? We all know what happened there: Lana Del Rey, with a big buzz about her and pair of cinematic singles to her credit, was caught in the headlights – a Bambi-eyed gown full of Ambien and cluelessness, woken up from a dream and shoved into a reality she wasn’t ready for, as a character she wasn’t familiar with. How did we like her now? We didn’t, we didn’t at all.
Born to Die, then, is the oddest of things, a comeback album and a debut record at once.
And it fails. Beyond the pouty, moody and previously released Blue Jeans and Video Games, the songs hold no charisma and no depth. Del Rey’s pulse-less singing and her songwriter-production team give us no reason not to listen to people like Jessica Lea Mayfield and Sharron Van Etten instead.
On the vamping Diet Mountain Dew, Del Rey’s admiration for Amy Winehouse is apparent. But the former has none of the latter’s rare combo of swagger and vulnerability. The result isn’t so bad, if your tastes lead to Winehouse-lite.
The fireworks that lead off the sweeping National Anthem are not deserved. The trying-too-hard mix of a giant swaying chorus, cutesy asides, hip-hop beats and the rhyme of “money is the anthem” with “God, you’re so handsome” lights up no skies.
Off to the Races is a sad, jumbled effort that never takes off. There’s some drowsy rapping, odd urban-music shouting and lush strings to close the mess off. One minute Del Rey is a sneering chanteuse, the other she’s making like Betty Boop. Being herself doesn’t seem to be an option, and she’s not much of a faker either.
The thing of it is, if this album weren’t saddled with such strong expectations it might be considered a promising debut. Video Games is a gorgeous blue-dark ballad, about a woman desperate not to be alone. The noir arrangement is exquisite.
But when the songs don’t come together, which is much more often than not, it’s hard to overlook Del Rey’s passionless, pinched voiced and bad acting. There’s a sense of tragedy and sadness that pervades this album called Born to Die. Del Rey is selling a persona that we might feel sorry for – which we do, but for the wrong reasons.
Born to Die
- Lana Del Rey
MORE NEW RELEASES
- Three and a half stars
You can refer to this as a break-up record – Afie (Bahamas) Jurvanen has. You could also call it a breakaway record, because for once and for all the Toronto sideman-deluxe has established himself as a sublime, incomparable leading man, one with a soulful, sweet and stylish touch in his song-writing, singing and restrained, retro-reverby guitar work. Barchords retains the melodious mosey and stripped-down charm of the promising Pink Strat debut, but a gentle beauty here like Lost in Light, with its pristine girl-girl background vocals and selfless sentiment – “this life is long, and so you wouldn’t be wrong, being free, leaving me, on my own” – marks a step up in maturity and game. Same with Be My Witness, a slow-shuffling gem of a plea. “Would you come back, if I called your name” is the question crooned. Keep on like this, Bahamas, and we’ll come back every time. Brad Wheeler
ROCK: Blues Funeral
- Mark Lanegan Band
- Three and a half stars
It’s half past doom, the skeletons are at their posts, and all you’ve got is a prayer you’re not sure you believe in. Mark Lanegan’s world is a place of dramatic extremes, where terrible things happen offstage and the difference between the saved and the damned may be too slight to be seen with the naked eye. “If tears were liquor, I’d have drunk myself sick,” he sings in his rich and ravaged baritone, formerly heard with Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. His songs circle the places where the wound was delivered to body or soul, sometimes pacing between a pair of neighbouring chords. Riot in My House rides a fabulous guitar riff by QOTSA’s Josh Homme, and Ode to Sad Disco inserts a spooky rock engine into a disco chassis and makes the thing run hard. “A mountain of dust burns in your mouth,” Lanegan sings, like a man who know how it tastes. Robert Everett-Green
CLASSICAL: French Impressions: Sonatas for Violin and Piano by Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Maurice Ravel
- Joshua Bell, violin
- Jeremy Denk, piano
- Sony Classical
- Three and a half stars
Note that this CD is called French Impressions, not French Impressionism, although the interpretations are most compelling when the music dips into the latter’s painterly territory: the suave opening of the Saint-Saëns (a marvel of inflected unisons in piano and violin), Ravel’s cheeky dialogue with American blues, the corrugated textures in the perpetual-motion movements. Nonetheless, I miss the ineffable sadness the first movement of the Franck sonata can have when the notes at the ends of the phrases are treated as tentative resolutions rather than arrivals or lead-ins – Bell and Denk place us on ground that’s firm rather than ambiguous – while the second movement is urgently linear and unremitting despite sections that might hover. This performance stands out less for its psychological complexity than for its ardour and virtuosity. Elissa Poole