Mountains of hype, backlash and internet garbage aside, there’s a killer mixtape buried inside “Born to Die,” the debut album from Lana Del Rey. But as the fully formed major label debut album from the New York singer/songwriter, “Born to Die” is stretched thin, and it collapses under the weight of its weaknesses.
“Born to Die’s” best moments – the title track, the sing-songy “Radio,” the hypnotic “Video Games” – combine Del Rey’s sensual spoke-sung vocals with cool, lush hip-hop instrumentals, creating a dreamlike world of glamour and grit. Like Drake’s partner Noah “40” Shebib, Del Rey’s producer Emile Haynie is essential to her sound, his beats providing the retro-modern soundscape to match her vamp-tease-gangsta persona. That persona is at times effective; in “Off to the Races,” she convincingly plays a schoolgirl in knee-high socks biting her bottom lip and twisting her hair, or the role Britney was playing in the “…Baby One More Time” video, minus all that bothersome self-empowerment. But that role has its limitations, and perhaps because she plays it so well, her purred commentary on modern life in songs like “National Anthem” (“money is the reason we exist, everyone knows that it’s a fact, kiss kiss”) rings hollow, like a lesson in fiscal responsibility from Paris Hilton.
“Born to Die” also suffers from its self-serious streak; you’d think an album that contains a whispered mention of “Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice” (in “This is What Makes Us Girls”) and a song called “Diet Mountain Dew” would have a sense of humor about itself, but you’d be wrong. And over the course of 50 minutes, Del Rey’s shtick grows tiresome. Mystery is a key component to her allure, and by the end of “Born to Die,” there’s simply none left. True to its title, “Born to Die” quickly self-destructs. GRADE: C