Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
Arriving on a wave of hype that makes the Be Here Now campaign look like an under-the-radar indie release, it's hard to separate the music from the mythology. The former Lizzy Grant has graced magazine covers on the back of just one single (albeit a stunning one), been by turns celebrated, then vilified by bloggers and pilloried for a not-actually-that-bad-just-uncomfortable appearance on Saturday Night Live.
If you listen to Born To Die without all that baggage at the back of your mind, and hear it for what it is - a sleek, well produced, expensive sounding debut - it's quite the achievement. Concerned hipsters should avoid a glance at the writing credits, which include Ronan Keating collaborator Rick Nowells and David Sneddon. Yes, that David Sneddon. But forget notions of authenticity, whatever they are, and just listen to what's here.
It's impossible not to feel that Lana Del Rey is a character (and at times a caricature) being played by Ms Grant, placing herself in the role of a woman doomed by vice - both her own and her partner's (sex, drugs, alcohol and money all weigh heavy) - and playing the part of doomed lover to a bad boy in a series of vignettes that tell the story of their relationship. The lyrics can be summarised as "you're a bit of a shit, and you do drugs, but I'm worthless and I'd die without you, babe," which, combined with the sometimes simpering, childlike delivery, can be a bit disconcerting.
In fact, if one were to devise a Born to Die drinking game, these would be the rules: take a drink every time someone gets kissed; Lana references her clothes / make-up, or drops the name of an iconic American landmark or city. The stout of liver can down a glass every time she denigrates herself or attaches her self worth to her partner, but such are the almost cartoonishly dubious gender politics on display, the hangover from hell would await. This reaches its apotheosis on 'Dark Paradise' where we find Lana contemplating suicide, her hand only stayed by her fear that "You won't be waiting on the other side." Then there's the occasional wince-worthy gansta-isms ("Fire of my loins / Gimme them gold coins".) Word.
But the lyrics aren't enough to sour the deal. Born To Die sounds glorious from start to finish and it's catchy as hell, even if you catch yourself cringing as you sing along. The sweeping strings, hip-hop beats and choruses attach to your brain like a limpet mine. All this and the best single of 2011. No mean feat.
Born to Die is an album you may love despite yourself. Logically, it's not that great, lyrically two-dimensional and occasionally jarring. But emotionally? It's an epic, sweeping beast with more than enough potential hit singles to go round and, in the end, you don't have to like the protagonist to enjoy a well told story. As I type, the album is number one in ten countries. So what happens now she's a star? We can only hope she's going to be pop's newest chameleon, telling new and interesting stories with each album, like her or not.