Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lana Del Rey's American Vision

As some of you who follow the Shennantics blog may know, I have a bit of morbid curiosity with hype machine, hipster poster girl, Lana Del Rey. Apparently, I'm not the only one. Del Rey's latest album "Born to Die," was released to a mix bag of critical reviews and many thought her 15 minutes of flashes in the pan were over.

Well, it's easy to dislike Del Rey. She doesn't seem very excited to sing live and her nerves are visible during her performances. Plus, she seems to sing as if she's taken far too many sedatives and either her or her wonky PR people laudibly named her "The Gangster Nancy Sinatra," which doesn't make any sense when we all know that the real Nancy Sinatra was indeed very much so a gangster.

All that aside, the Lana Del Rey machine continues to intrigue. And why? Most of us lament, who is this person? why do I care?

A wealth of industrial grade analysis exists about Del Rey. Search the web and its plentiful, everyone has an opinion, even Liz Phair. Phair wrote that Del Rey scares the "boy club" of indie-rock music and politics calling into question all the gender play and sexism involved (most of this deals with Del Rey's bee stung lips and conventional beauty) when people launch into discussions about Lana Del Rey.

And before I launch into that discussion, I bit the bullet. I listened to "Born To Die," thinking it was going to be abysmal. I wanted it to be terrible so I could get on with this monkey business.

To my surprise, I loved "Born to Die."

It was really in a way something I had not expected to hear. In my own reading of Del Rey, I imagine that it is indeed a concept album. A letter to literary tropes, cliches, feminine ideals and the love of a time gone. All this was in this album and naturally all of Del Rey's artistic shortcomings.

"Born to Die," is heavy on soundscape. It's heavy on strings, lush arrangement, sparse piano keys and heavy like lead drops. The title track is a cut and paste of dusty country singing, hip hop beats and music designed for a score.

The rest of the album plays out the same. Del Rey dips into her handbook of suggested ideas, like prostitutes on the dark and yet wacky "Off to the Races," in which she pouts and sings about a sugar daddy who keeps her living the good life. In "Carmen," she warns about the trappings of such a life over a gorgeous piece of music specifically designed to be heavy and emotive. Elsewhere on the album she's singing about 'heart shaped glasses,' 'pabst blue ribbon on ice,' and the 'national anthem.' The album is rife with allusions to Vladamir Nabokov's literary masterpiece "Lolita."

I won't spoil "Lolita" for those who have not read it, but it is indeed a tragedy, a very well written tragedy.Del Rey stumbles over herself in ambition to create the same sense of foreboding and richly layered subtext. However it is exactly this point that no one is giving her credit for. Simply put, the shortcomings of "Born to Die" are indeed clunky, but the ambition isn't. Del Rey wrote an album, which is a bit refreshing today when everyone is releasing singles. A fan of literary allusions and myths when I see one, I gravitated towards "Born to Die," because finally a woman had written something so unabashedly ambitious and yes, dark and gloomy.

To prod deeper, like many pieces of literature, the blankness in the album is maybe a bit too much fun for audiences, critics and haters alike to reach into.

No comments: