There has been a lot of discussion about Lana Del Rey’s much anticipated “debut” album Born To Die. Much of it has centred on her authenticity, whether the artist formerly known as Lizzie Grant is the real deal or just an industry construct designed to hoover up money from the gullible.
One should give Lana the benefit of the doubt. All pop acts are constructs, from privately educated punk heroes The Clash to the middle-class indie bands now singing about fights down the pub and high-rise blocks of flats.
Del Rey’s street cred in this country wasn’t exactly helped by David Cameron’s declaration that he was a fan. It would be wrong, however, to dismiss her on the back of his endorsement: after all, he also declared a liking for The Smiths and The Jam.
Yet, endorsement from a man like Cameron sums up a lot about Lana Del Rey as an artist: her music is “interesting” and “dark” to people who haven’t removed Take That’s Greatest Hits from their car CD-changer in five years. It doesn’t matter whether Lana Del Rey is authentic or not, the fact is that this is a deeply unimaginative album.
The lyrics are so anodyne they sound like they came out of script meeting for a US teen drama. In Born To Die, we are invited to take a walk on the wild side in the pouring rain, asked to go get high because the road is tough and she doesn’t know why. Lolita contains a line so unfathomably dull it could be from Barney the Dinosaur: “I want my cake and I want to eat it too / I want to have fun and be in love with you.”
It is better to stop there because the entire album is a collection of cut-out-and-keep bad boy clichés. Even James Dean receives an obligatory name check. It’s now 57 years since his death and yet Ms Del Rey couldn’t find more contemporary shorthand for rebellion. Declaring Cliff Richard a bad boy would’ve been more up to date.
It must be admitted that at first her sound is interesting. Title track Born To Die could be said, at a stretch, to remind one a little of Portishead. Yet by the time we’ve been through Video Games, National Anthem, Carmen and This Is What Makes Us Girls, it’s clear that this is a stylistic pose rather than anything more intriguing. The best track on the album is perhaps Off To The Races, but only because her tortured girl with a past persona lapses into a more upbeat parody of itself.
In her defence, Del Rey’s album will no doubt sell by the bucket-load; she has the look, the voice and the sound nailed. Perhaps one could look on the album’s melancholy blandness as a good thing: those flocking to buy it are unlikely to be rooting through specialist record shops for undiscovered gems.
But it’s time we stopped putting up with albums like Del Rey’s and saying that they are good. Time we stopped accepting the latest rehash of pop culture clichés into an angst-ridden, musical ready-meal and saying it’s anything but what it is. Time for people who want better to put their heads out of the window in the style of Howard Beale and shout “I’m bored as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Or at least leave Born To Die on the shelf and buy a PJ Harvey album instead.
Listen to Lana Del Ray’s debut album here