Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Lana Del Rey: Born To Die: The Paradise Edition

"I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast
I am alone in the night
Been trying hard not to get into trouble, but I
I've got a war in my mind
So, I just ride"
-Ride (enjoyed this summer on a beach)-

Rarely does a female voice come along that is so deceptively simple, so deceptively graceful that it lulls you in with its raw power.  The strength of that siren's call lies with Elizabeth Woolridge Grant also known as Lana Del Rey, singer, songwriter, model, cinematographer and all around fascinating new voice to grace a turgid pop scene.

Del Rey and her music is the antidote to a seemingly rote pop landscape. Her music drifts ebbing and flowing with the grandeur of nature's wondrous forces.  Her words drip over the body like a melted milky way over finger tips on a hot summer's day.  Rey is a throwback to another time.  She is an untamed, raw, pure talent that gently infiltrates the mind with melody but with the sweet caress of a twisted Lynchian character out of another world like Twin Peaks (1990-1991). She embodies the mysteries surrounding a character like Laura Palmer and channels the mood captured fleetingly by American composer Angelo Badalamenti (a David Lynch mainstay) and Julee Cruise in a song like Falling.  The difference is, vocally, Del Rey is a powerhouse talent with the kind of modulation that made someone like Stevie Nicks special for decades.


I've been listening to Lana Del Rey since her appearance on Saturday Night Live (January 2012).  She was inappropriately skewered by many including NBC Nightly News' Brian Williams, a self-proclaimed music aficionado. He saved his very best venom for her following that debut dubbing her performance "the worst in SNL history."  That statement said everything you need to know about Williams' as an analyst.  I'm sure he's watched every performance on SNL.  Others chimed in about said problematic performance.  I've seen it. To this day I can't understand the disdain she received.  Nerves aside, she was nothing short of stunning.

This unusual, intriguing bad girl who has been associated with the likes of crazy old Axel Rose is a bit of a puzzle.  How many singers can fly under the radar like this?  Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga (the list goes on) have made a career of de-robing or making waves for attention's sake.  It's all about pop fame and the Benjamins.  I don't diminish these pop stars or claim they lack talent, but it's all about approach and the harnessing of it. Lana Del Rey is simply different.  Other offer an aural pop assault, while Rey delivers an aural wonderland bold enough to deliver something spare with a focus on the voice.  Beyond being downright sexy, she's an understated, graceful diva that manages to float along the airwaves on the audacity of sheer talent alone. She has received none of the commercial support many enjoy.  No American Idol. No America's Got Talent. No The X Factor. No buoy from the American public calling into vote.  No gimmicks. Yes, Del Rey delivers on talent alone and her quietly rising star initially propelled her on the shoulders of Video Games which was originally viral.

Her music videos speak as much to her style and approach as her voice.  Gorgeous cinematic pleasures capture her beauty and the caress of each song on film.  It's no surprise she's self-dubbed her style as "Hollywood Sadcore."

Her songs themselves gently lilt along on strings and modern beats to a paced groove.  Musically her selections are more complex than they appear, but it is her voice, most of all, that is the most layered instrument of every track offering variations in cadence.  Each listening seems to unearth new mysteries or new wonders.  She lures listeners like the mythical voice drawing ocean ships to their rocky doom.

I tend to discover music before most of my pop-reared family.  Bastille and Josh Kumra were two of my recent discoveries.  My son turned me on to Imagine Dragons.  Of Monsters And Men's My Head Is An Animal (2011) was derided by my family initially when it was in heavy rotation in the vehicle.  It wasn't until it broke on pop radio with Little Talks that my son had a change of heart.  Likewise, my daughter and The One To Be Pitied finally gave Lana a second look upon hearing sleeper hit Summertime Sadness on radio this year.  Why are people slaves to the radio?  Hasn't the Internet changed all that?  Summertime Sadness made the rounds on pop radio and garnered a little, much deserved attention even if it's not one of her very best from her instant classic Born To Die (2012; fifth best seller of that year) recording.  It's still incredibly good.

Well, like Of Monsters And Men's My Head Is An Animal, Born To Die defies pop conventions.  Taken as a whole, these recordings are experiences.  They lend themselves well to unique selections, but it's when they are listened to from start to finish that one is immersed into their sonic world.  My Head Is An Animal and Born To Die are immediately epic in this fashion.

Born To Die was already a perfectly assembled selection of songs that was only enhanced with the coupling of the Paradise Ep (2012).  The Ep was easily a natural complement to Born To Die musically and stylistically as the songs seemed born of the same sessions.  Thus Born To Die was reissued as a deluxe edition dubbed Born To Die: The Paradise Edition. Waste not a moment and purchase this 15 + 8 = 23 track sensation.  The songs register low and beautiful with playful bursts and include Born to Die, Off To The Races, Blue Jeans, Video Games, Diet Mountain Dew, National Anthem, Dark Paradise, Radio, Carmen, Million Dollar Man, Summertime Sadness, This Is What Makes Us Girls, Without You, Lolita and Lucky Ones.  The Paradise Ep compounds the musical experience with Ride, American, Cola, Body Electric, Blue Velvet, Gods And Monsters, Yayo and Bel Air.  Believe it or not, for a short period, the re-recorded Yayo was extracted from Rey's first recording Lana Del Rey a.k.a. Lizzy Grant (2010).  That effort appeared on iTunes briefly and will no doubt find its way to re-release one day, but is as elusive as the reason many music fans still don't get this girl. Funny enough, the American singer is bigger outside the USA.  Despite songs of obsession, co-dependency, drugs, greed and sex, like England's The Beautiful South, she often masks the dark subject matter in yearning, emotional melodies as the latter has done in pop delight.  The selections from Born To Die and Paradise ultimately push the envelope lyrically and she will continue to be a lightning rod.

Lana Del Rey is going to be around for a long time with her unique anti-pop style that young and old will discover and for which they ultimately hunger for.  Expect big things from her.

Some will emulate her while others will make every effort to tear her down.  Her controversial approach to making music with a good deal of freedom doesn't fit within the pop cliché.  If you can't fit into their perception of a tidy little pop box prepare for destruction.  She has a gift and only time will tell if the singer can tame the demons and keep them in check while she delivers some of the best pop music to reach consumers in years.

Boy George (Culture Club) delivered a strikingly emotive rendition of Video Games with the kind of care he delivered for The Crying Game (1992).  The rendition is elusive but you can find the video, directed by Mike Nicholls, out there on the web.  George misses more than he hits but he actually interprets his version of the Rey song spot on.

Rey's rendering of Blue Velvet and its strangely Lynchian music video just begs for a casting call.  In fact, David Lynch said of the singer, not that she was born to die, but that the charismatic, self-styled, visionary singer was "born out of another time."  There is indeed a Lynchian inspiration to the artist.  It's no surprise that cinematic flair and her surrounding mystery should be further echoed by a tattoo on her right hand Trust No OneThe X-Files would be proud.

With a penchant for cinematography Del Rey fearlessly lends her music videos cinematic flourish and visual nods to the 1950s and 1960s Americana which further underscores her old school qualities as a vocalist.

Born To Die: The Paradise Edition is about as perfect a recording as recordings go by female artists today.  Del Rey is a little too left or right of center to be on mainstream radio and I love her for it.  She is making no efforts to placate pop radio sticking with a style that is entirely her own.  And given her cinematic aspirations it should come as no surprise she would land herself working on a soundtrack to a project by Baz Luhrmann.  Artistically, she's an ideal choice, one that makes perfect sense. She recently delivered Young And Beautiful to the director's The Great Gatsby (2013) which potentially yielded her the most attention to date on US radio.  It even kick started renewed interest and a resurgence in Summertime Sadness. Perhaps her next recording will catch fire and the attention of the masses, the ones lulled to sleep by the endless rotation of Katy Perry.

Despite her young age, Del Rey sings as if she has lived an eternity.  Attending boarding school for alcohol dependence at fourteen can have that affect. The One To Be Pitied, despite being moved by her voice, finds her lyricism to bleak and dreary.  The name assigned to the recording should tell you something I suppose.  Sometimes though I have to look beyond the words and experience the sound, the voice and the cinematic power of her music.  To immerse myself in the music without hanging on every word is sometimes enough for me.  When I do stop and listen, at the very least, Del Rey has something to say.

She also went to New York City for metaphysical studies of God and science where she discovered a gift for music. Though young and beautiful, she draws from her experiences while peering into the window of fantasy.  Lana Del Rey beats entirely to her own drum and there is something inviting yet forbidden about the sensual qualities in her music.

Look no further than the cover art as Del Rey adorns a red top shrouded by a penetrable, buttoned up, conservative white blouse.  It's tempting, inviting and somehow knowingly dangerous. This is indeed an intoxicating combination from one of America's unique female talents.

Sometimes its difficult to differentiate between certain pop singers, but the voice of Del Rey is instantly recognizable.  The strength of that voice is immediate and undeniably Del Rey.  She is one of a kind today in a category of her own.  That's a rare achievement.  Lana Del Rey is crafting the stuff of pop dreams.  Her songs are of the deliberate, considered, poetic and timeless variety.  Sad music or not, she's offers listeners a lot to be happy about.

Honestly, purchase Born To Die: The Paradise Edition and behold the birth of a lively American talent.

*This is the first entry to prompt a change in the label from the 80s heavy approach under the 80s Music label to now 80s Music Plus.  We'll be opening things accordingly when inspired.


le0pard13 said...

Wonderful, G. I've been discovering her work only recently. Thanks for this.

SFF said...

Thanks M! Plenty of layered depth to her songs and music.

Each time I listen I discover something new.

Roman J. Martel said...

Well you've got me interested. Your mention of David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise got my attention.

s. said...

Fantastic article! I love Lana's music, her style and music videos.

"pure talent that gently infiltrates the mind with melody but with the sweet caress of a twisted Lynchian character out of another world like Twin Peaks " - what a fantastic way to describe her work!

Unknown said...

Well said! You perfectly encapsulated what makes Lana Del Rey's music so good. Her hypnotic voice, coupled with the layered instrumentation, really paints vivid pictures in your mind. I also love the videos she's done for her songs. I dunno who she hires to direct them, but they really complement her music.

Nice call on her song for THE GREAT GATSBY. When I heard that she was going to be doing a song for the film, I thought what a great idea as she definitely has that "from another time and place" kinda vibe.

le0pard13 said...

BTW, it was 'Young and Beautiful' that initially fired my interest in Lana. And J.D.'s appraisal, like yours, is spot on. It's also my pleasure to share your fine work, my friend. Thanks.

SFF said...

Roman. Lana is the bomb. She's not only incredibly sexy, her lyricism is unusual and takes twists and turns that a lot of artists wouldn't dare.

She is the anti-cliché.

Thank you Sati. And I tell you, honestly, she has been one of my favorite artists for the last year. Every songs she releases is an event in the way Duran Duran songs were an event for me in the 1980s. That's huge praise. :)

Sexy, hypnotic. Absolutely. Lana is a standout with that song on The Great Gatsby, and could easily have fit nicely on Born To Die.

She's quite a talent. There's nothing boring about this babe.

Unknown said...

So, have you listened to ULTRAVIOLENCE yet?

I've picked up about a week ago and I like the shift to traditional instruments like guitars, etc. Her voice is still as hypnotic as ever.

Looking forward to review of it!

SFF said...

Hey J.D.

I did purchase Ultraviolence but have yet to take to it the same way I did with Born To Die.

I do like it, but I can't say it has taken hold in the same manner Born to Die did.

It's certainly a well-produced and gritty production. I still have a ways to go in embracing it fully but something tells me I will based on a few listens. I just really have to immerse myself in it.

But yeah, like you, she hypnotizes me as well.

Unknown said...

Her voice is sultry and sexy! Her songs are passionate and raw and full of feeling. I have been entranced by her voice and her beauty. It is old Hollywood glamour and style. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

SFF said...

Thanks for saying Vicki.

Franco Macabro said...

This is weird, but I'm listening to Ultraviolence right now at work! She just melts me with her freaking sensual, it carries a certain melancholy to her...I really dig it. I'm going to get Paradise soon, I've actually asked for it for the 'secret santa' thing at work ha ha ha..

Franco Macabro said...

Oh man, that song from The Great Gatsby is what got me hooked on her...such emotion...that's one of my favorite songs of hers, I can just hear it and hear it....I also love Money Power Glory...awesome song!

SFF said...

Okay, great comments because you got me thinking.

I actually LOVE Paradise obviously based on my review here.

Ultraviolence is a bit more mature I would say and certainly is a grower, moreso than Paradise.

I still haven't fallen in love with that recording like I did Paradise. Still, it's one I need to give more time.

I agree with all of your points regarding her voice.

The Great Gatsby track is terrific as is her theme to Maleficent if you haven't heard it.

But yes, I envy you that you are digging into Ultraviolence before Paradise because I might have appreciated it more. It's still a hell of an album with a lot of layers, but Paradise is just a killer.

Thanks for writing.