Lana Del Rey survived a lifetime's worth of slings and arrows before her major-label debut, Born to Die, was even released. But now that it's officially out, critics have had a chance to listen to the atmospheric tracks she's put together, and for the most part, they're pretty impressed.
The Chicago Tribune gave it two out of four stars and said the finished product is not always as interesting as the run-up to its release. "[The album] positions itself as a knowing retro commentary. It borrows heavily from B movies starring various second- and third-level 'Rebel Without a Cause' bad boys on motorcycles, string-drenched 'Last Kiss' pop tunes in which young lovers die in each other's arms, beehived teens-with-attitude declaring, 'He hit me and it felt like a kiss,' " music critic Greg Kot wrote. While Kot said Del Rey wishes to be taken seriously as "the bad girl in a gown, the cabaret singer with a masochistic streak," he said she's not always up to the task, even as he praised her distinctive, draggy vocal delivery and the dramatic, eerie arrangements from producer Emilie Haynie.
Over at BBC, the focus was squarely on the music, saying above and beyond the drama, Born to Die is about "something older and more mysterious than that; the extraordinary, resilient power of the pop song." The reviewer lamented that nothing on the 12-track album quite reaches the exquisite bummerness of lead single "Video Games," with several of the songs running "perilously close, while revealing there's more to her than the love-stunned torch singer [of that song]." What makes the album so fascinating and sets Del Rey apart from the typical "I'm hot, you're hot" pop tart is her "preoccupation with Hollywood archetypes of American femininity, and her ability to shape-shift between them."
MTV News' own James Montgomery believed the hype, writing that the album was "positively brimming with atmospherics — soaring, sonorous strings, echoing electronic boom-bap, morose, maudlin guitar crescendos — all of which imbue it with a truly epic (if not unnecessarily dramatic) scope." For him, the album is a "thrilling headphone experience" that sounds like the $1 million he suspected it cost to make.
The U.K.'s Guardian also praised the "sumptuous" orchestration and Del Rey's "fine" voice. But after being impressed by the "beguiling description of a mundane love" affair in "Video Games," the reviewer said the album's other lyrics are "incredibly heavy-handed in their attempts to convince you that Lana del Rey is the doomed but devoted partner of a kind of Athena poster bad boy, all white vest, cheekbones and dangling ciggie." If anything, the Guardian critic didn't buy the Del Rey tough-girl personality and said the best bet is to mostly ignore the lyrics and focus on "how magnificently most of the melodies have been constructed."
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