Suppose we're talking lingerie: “Born To Die” could have been a set by Agent Provocateur, but it didn't get past Victoria's Secret. It's seductive, yes. It's sexy, that, too. It increases the libido, sure. But it's not Agent Provocateur. Suppose we're talking trip-hop: “Born To Die” could have evoked Portishead, but it didn't get past Morcheeba. It's exciting, yes. It's dramatic, yes. It's melancholic, that, too. But it's not Beth Gibbons or Adrien Utley, and Geoff Barrow’s not making the beats. Suppose we're talking cinema: “Born To Die” could have been on the soundtrack of “Mulholland Drive”, but it's on the score of “Drive”. It's dark, mildly. It's twisted, sure. It's sexy, oh yes. But it's not David Lynch. And the same thing goes for Lana del Rey's definition of herself: “self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra”. There's not much of Nancy Sinatra here, and even less gangsta.
For every brilliant moment on “ Born To Die”, there are two embarrassing ones. Listening to “Blue Jeans”, “Video Games” and “Born To Die” (which sounds overwhelming and breath-taking as part of the album, much more so than as an advance single) in a row is heaven. Lana has got incredible style: the intonation, the cadence, the gangsta Nancy Sinatra feel – purring the ultra-sexy “you fit me better than my favourite sweater”, taking her finger to her mouth when she sings, with that posh manicure, thinking she's a ghetto baddie. In between comes “Off To The Races”, and later “ Diet Mountain Dew”, you hear her promises of ultimate love (with verses as cool as “ Diet Mountain Dew baby New York City / Never was there ever a girl so pretty / Do you think we'll be in love forever?”) and you imagine her as Laura Dern in “ Wild At Heart”; smoking a cigarette in a convertible, loudly blowing bubble gum, suddenly turning up the music and insisting Nicolas Cage stops the car to dance like there's no tomorrow. And you believe her - you melt with every “babe”, with every mention of love, until the very end.
But then comes “ National Anthem” (will that be the most-played song in the United States on the 4th of July this year?) and “Dark Paradise”, and everything becomes way too obvious. Like too much unnecessary cleavage, or a skirt creeping up too high. It's the moment when all the cool goes out the window and things become so blatant that it's embarrassing. Out goes the melodramatic elegance, the white satin disappears and in comes the teen pop - very much out of keeping with the initial idea. It’s as if she wanted to be Beth Gibbons and Katy Perry. The lyrics become a cliché (the girl declares her eternal love for the bad boy, the girl who roams the streets with her best friends because they are bad girls, the girl obsessed with expensive cars and sexy clubs) and there are moments that drive you insane. For example when she spells “d.a.r.k.” ad nauseam, on “ Lolita”, or when she pants (way) too much on “National Anthem”. After the repetition of “ Million Dollar Man” (more intrigue, more mystery, more danger, more clichés) comes “Summertime Sadness”, which, although it has a leitmotiv you could find horrible (empathising with the summery sadness of the gangsta chick could be complicated), is one of the most solid songs on the album. “Without You” and “ Lucky Ones” (both of them bonus tracks on the special edition) are, again, too obvious, monotonous and embarrassing. They want to be Mazzy Star tracks, but Hope Sandoval isn't around.
Suppose we're talking records that were promising, but didn't get past shaky, despite some brilliant moments. “ Born To Die” is one of those.