At the risk of sounding somewhat bold, the fact that Lana del Rey seems to divide opinion so sharply is probably proof enough that she has ‘made it’. Criticism of her seems to centre around issues such as her wealthy background, or whether her image is ‘contrived’, and frequently ignores the very thing on which she should be judged; the merit of her music. Back in February, So So Gay found much to praise on her début album, Born To Die, with its lush production, solid song writing, and originality. Love or hate her, it cannot be denied that there is no-one quite like del Rey. It was only a matter of time before an extended edition of the album appeared, especially given the trend in recent years for artists to achieve as much mileage as possible from their releases.
The stand-out track of the new material is the lead single, ‘Ride’. Accompanied by an ‘epic’ music video, the likes we have come to expect from del Rey, ‘Ride’ is a truly anthemic number which demonstrates the artist’s tremendous powers of storytelling, not to mention the majestically rich vocals that are her trademark. The track is accompanied by soaring strings and catchy lyrical hooks such as ‘I have a war in my mind’. Most certainly, if you were looking for a song to rival the power and intensity of ‘Born To Die’, this is the closest you’re going to get. The track builds to a delicious vocal breakdown where del Rey declares, ‘I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy’, before bringing the track to a tumultuous peak.
Darker themes of desire and the pushing of sexual boundaries are never far away, and this is never more apparent than in the opening of ‘Cola’. Few artists could convincingly pull off an opening lyric such as ‘My pussy tastes like Pepsi cola / My eyes are wide like cherry pies / I got a taste for men who’re older’ without sounding completely ridiculous, but del Rey manages to make it convincing and sexy. Some fantastic imagery is woven through the lyrics, such as the singer wearing nothing but an American flag; or rather, she doesn’t exactly say that she’s wearing nothing else, but for some reason, that’s how you imagine it. This is accompanied by a pulsating beat that captures the energy of raw sexuality, accompanied by del Rey whispering ‘C’mon, c’mon’ in one breath, whilst performing amazing vocal acrobatics that sound almost like the throes of wild passion in the next. It should sound crass and trashy, but somehow she pulls it off. Another deceptively dangerous slow-burner is ‘Body Electric’ – initially a slow and mournful number, it has a simple and repetitively structured chorus that gathers pace and power in the beat. The darker themes of sexual gratification and the excesses of youth - apparent in songs such as ‘Carmen’ and ‘Dark Paradise’ – are certainly deepened and developed to great effect here.
A relative tour de force is ‘Gods And Monsters’, with it’s retro-influenced opening and hip-hop inspired beats. Musically, the track pounds through to a climax in a raw and infectious manner, but lyrically, you will find some of the finest moments after ‘Ride’. With gambits such as, ‘You’ve got that medicine I need / Fame, liquor and love, give it to me slowly’, or the thoroughly mind-blowing, ‘In the land of gods and monsters I was just an angel / Lookin’ to get fucked hard’. It’s certainly very stylised in terms of its darkness, and it verges on cliché with lines such as, ‘When you talk it’s like a movie, and you’re makin’ me crazy / Cos life imitates art’. Despite the frequent use of profanity, the rise and fall of the beat and reliance on Rey’s vocal talents mean that it doesn’t feel ‘over-done’.
A far more restrained affair is ‘American’, with it’s almost dream-like quality. It explores some of the trademark themes that we have come to associate with del Rey, embracing romantic, carefree youthfulness in a soft and enticing manner. She croons her way seductively through the chorus: ‘You make me crazy / You make me wild / Just like a baby / You spin me round like a child / Your skin so golden brown / Be young, be dope, be proud / Like an American’. This is accompanied by some beautiful instrumentation, which builds to a synth effect, which fleetingly put us in mind of early Nelly Furtado. It strikes a balance between maintaining the gentleness yet providing enough of a build to hold the interest.
This certainly works much better than on tracks such as ‘Yayo’. This song has great appeal in terms of the jazzy feel it brings to the album, but loses it with a series of vocal displays that make the track, quite frankly, a bit of warble, and certainly has nothing on the closing track, ‘Bel Air’. Indeed, one of the most notable features of this track is a beautiful piano arrangement that evokes a fairytale feel, not to mention lyrics that speak not of darkness and self-destruction, but rather the opposite, namely a willingness to surrender to the more positive side of desire. After the sexually-charged aspects of ‘Cola’ and ‘Gods And Monsters’, this serves to demonstrate that del Rey, so often criticised for ‘over-embracing’ destructive themes, can deliver a song that draws on beauty as well as those that push the boundaries of sexual provocation.
It is probably clear that The Paradise Edition is unlikely to change any previous conceptions of Lana Del Rey. This is a case of more of the same; existing fans will enjoy the new edition, and those who ‘simply don’t get her’ will find nothing here that changes their minds. If you’re looking for a comparison, then don’t expect the new tracks to do for Born To Die what The Fame Monster did for Lady Gaga’s The Fame, but this is largely due the strength of the original material. Leaving aside the somewhat forgettable cover of ‘Blue Velvet’ and focussing on the original material, seven good songs out of eight certainly cannot be argued with.
Go Get It: ‘Ride’ / ‘Gods And Monsters’
Forget It: ‘Yayo’