Frontier Psychiatrist

Dialogue: Lana Del Rey (4)

Posted on: February 3, 2012

Lana Del Ray, Video Games


It seems that we’ve come to some basic agreement about Lana Del Rey: She has talent, her songs are catchy, and the negative reaction to Born to Die says more about the biases of her critics than it does about her music. But perhaps I was too quick to dismiss your claim that her presence on the album matters less than the songs themselves. It’s true that in pop music, the song often carries more weight than the singer. If this weren’t true, wedding bands, cover bands, jazz and blues bands, karaoke, and American Idol simply would not exist.  This got me thinking: What would a Lana Del Ray song sound like minus Lana Del Rey? Fortunately, this is not a hypothetical question.

The web is filled with amateur covers of Lana Del Rey songs, many recorded after some of her songs leaked last year but before Born To Die came out this week. Obviously some are duds. But the fact that several of them are compelling as live performances with stripped down instrumentation and without professional production, speaks to the strength of the songwriting. And some of these unknowns sing as well as, if not better than, Del Rey.

Beyond the adoring amateurs, actual professionals have also covered Del Rey songs, a fact that further sanctions the strength of the original material. Kasabian gives the piano ballad “Video Games” a classic rock spin. Bombay Bicycle Club takes a more twee approach, with a toy piano and vocals split between its male and female singers, making a lonely lament into a dialogue. Now what to make of the fact that both of these bands are English? Do our former colonial overlords appreciate aspects of Del Rey that Americans have missed? It wouldn’t be the first time. The Brits love plenty of music that we find tacky or trashy in America (Muse, for example). This is not because they are Philistines: they’ve brought us great music from The Beatles to James Blake. It’s just more evidence that cultural biases are at play in the evaluation of Born to Die, including my own predilection for anything British, from BBC News to Premier League soccer to the original Tinker Tailor Soldier spy miniseries. Lana Del Rey is already on the cover of the new issue of British Vogue. Can we expect her in the next season of Downton Abbey?

Still, if all these covers have given me a deeper appreciation for the songwriting on Born to Die –and temper my claim that Del Rey’s presence is essential on the album –I’d still rather listen to the original. Del Rey sings with a compelling rawness that transcends the quality of her voice and her lyrical clichés. Hearing her try on voices, masks, and attitudes feels like re-reading an old journal filled with stuff that you thought was too boring or trite or honest or weird to tell your friends. However awkward or pat or immature her answers might be, she’s asking fundamental human questions about life, love, money, death and –an aspect we both neglected to address earlier in this dialogue – the search for God.

To answer your question about my “final” take on the album, I’ve had Born to Die on repeat all week, literally to the exclusion of all other music (except the new Rodrigo y Gabriela record, Area 52.) I imagine my enthusiasm will fade in a few weeks or months –as it often does after a period of intense listening to a new album. We shall see.  Regardless, I doubt I’ll switch to Diet Mountain Dew. When I crave grapefruit soda (and I often do), I’m loyal to three brands: Izze, Fresca, and Jarritos. Maybe Lana can incorporate these beverages into her next album? For now, I’m looking forward to our next Dialogue. Until then, please don’t read my journal.

Keith Meatto is co-editor of Frontier Psychiatrist. His first impressions of Born To Die appeared on FP yesterday. He does not play video games.



1 Response to "Dialogue: Lana Del Rey (4)"

[…] the rest of our discussion!  Click for parts two, three, and four. Share this:ShareEmailTwitterFacebookRedditStumbleUponYahoo BuzzDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to […]

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Sons of Dionysus

A Transmedia Novel of Myth, Mirth, and the Magical Excess of Youth.