As 2012 comes to a close; music critics, magazines and reviewers will all be scratching their heads and listening to hundreds of albums as they try to create their perennial list of the year’s best records. Some albums – Coexist, An Awesome Wave, Lonerism etc.- are bound to make most 2012 lists; how Lana Del Rey’s Born To Die will fare is a far tricker question.
Emphatically loved in some quarters for its musical depth and alluring dreamy beauty; critically panned by others for its lack of authenticity, crass theme and dragging lyrics: both the album and Del Rey herself served a polarising – but nonetheless interesting – mix. Unsurprisingly then, the reaction to Del Rey’s newest release, Paradise – which comes as a nine-track standalone EP or as a bonus disc on a repackaged version of her debut album – has been similarly split.
Beginning with the already-released single, ‘Ride’, the album starts where Born To Die left off; with Del Rey’s lush sultry tones, intense hypnotic strings and emotive flair suiting a scene from a 60s prom. It’s close to being the best single Del Rey has released; the mournful ballad flow of ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Video Games’ is there in abundance, but with surging strings, a hypnotic oscillating piano and seductive vocals, the song is far more upbeat – and enjoyable – than her previous efforts.
Second single ‘Cola’ follows a similar thread; beginning with her trademark whirl of instruments, the song suddenly sweeps into motion with the announcement that “my p***y tastes like Pepsi Cola”. Odd, perhaps, but at least showing a little humour. It then launches into an enchanting melody with a slight-Springsteen influence, before venturing into the classic film noir melodrama that Del Rey thrives in.
One thing it does make clear though is that this is not a musical evolution; the EP serves only as a direct continuation of Born To Die, further cementing LDR’s careful all-American girl image. The alluringly and cinematic pastiche of Hollywood glamour and 50s ‘American Dream’ are, once again, painted throughout; “I fall asleep in an American flag”, she soothes. No more obvious is in ‘American’ – one of the weakest songs on Paradise – which appears a rehash of any modern pop song. Vocally, she even has Ellie Goulding similarities; whilst the chorus also consists of this piece of lyrical genius “like an American, owhoo o-whooo ohooooo” x2. Indeed, lyrically, Del Rey fails to deliver again; “Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother” is one particularly low-point, showing a clumsiness to all this American glamour persona she is so keen to force through.
Yet, despite this, the EP does show a growing maturity both in the richness of her music and a further restraint from overblown sounds and depressiveness. A simple cover of ‘Blue Velvet’, a 50s classic, shows this off best; it reveals LDR’s true vocal talent when away from the sometimes overbearing atmosphere she seeks to create. (You might also recognise it from a H&M advert).
‘Yayo’ also has a shimmering beauty, with Del Rey singing a Bond-esque ballad through whispy strings like a performer in a smoke-filled burlesque bar. Her lyrical narrative remains elusive and mysterious, but it trickles with bleak heartbreak and sadness. It reveals that Del Rey is far more than a one trick pony; ‘God & Monsters’ is a continued showcase of such versatility; it has undoubtedly bloated, but it has an eerie darkness pounding throughout. These are the most interesting songs that Del Rey has produced; and shows there is more than the Born To Die slow sadness.
So then; a winner? Well, yes and no. To be sure, Paradise is fairly similar to Born To Die – the people who liked it will find much to like here also; those that remained unconvinced will remain…unconvinced. After all, Del Rey’s sound of nostalgic American dreams is prevalent; yet, undoubtedly the sound has matured into something far more listenable and she shows far more potential on the basis of this effort. The EP has its flaws – and many songs fail to convince – but it makes a nice bookend of the year for 2012’s marmite artist. It’s not quite paradise, but it’ll do for now.