Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Lana Del Rey: Paradise EP

When I first saw this EP in the new album lineup for the week, I recognized the name but couldn't quite remember why, so I assumed Lana Del Rey was probably top-40.  It took all of a half a second of listening for me to realize that she's not only nowhere near top-40, but also the subject of last year's major new-artist hullabaloo, when, after her video for "Video Games" went viral, it was discovered that she had already released a failed album as Lizzie Grant (real name), and this was her second chance at stardom.  I even remember reading this article on Slate when the whole thing happened (which is an interesting piece, especially if you're a fan), but still not caring enough to actually listen to her music.  Until today, of course, when I had to.

My first observation about this album was that it will never be a record I enjoy.  Which isn't to say it's necessarily bad, but it's overly-serious and moody, two traits which I simply can't abide in music (or anything else, for that matter).  Even more upsetting to me than its tortured self-importance, however, is the way in which Del Rey presents herself the listener; the same retro, dead-eyed glam that she exudes in pictures shines through in her voice as well, whether she's employing a low, pretty/ugly tone (like on "Ride"), or a kittenish come-hither coo (like on "Yayo").  There's no doubt that this EP evokes a mood - between the swirling, building symphonic synths that characterize the music and Del Rey's barely-controlled vocal somersaults, the listener finds themselves firmly settled in a seedy bar sipping Old Fashioneds and watching coked-up lounge singer Del Rey swoon on stage before the hulking bouncer drags her off in a semi-conscious heap to have his way with her backstage - it's just not a mood I happen to like.

And then, of course, there are the lyrics.  When Del Rey sings things like "My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola/My eyes are wide like cherry pies/I gots a taste for men who're older/It's always been so it's no surprise" (on "Cola"), she paints herself as a willing victim, a portrayal that carries through to pretty much every other song on the album as well (like on "Gods & Monsters", when she says "In the land of gods & monsters/I was an angel/Looking to get fucked hard/Like a groupie incognito posing as a real singer").  Coupled with her fascination with infamously woebegone figures from the past (I heard references to Jim Morrison, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis, amongst others), Del Rey's passivity overtakes the record - a characteristic which it must share with her full-length release, at least according to that Slate article I referenced earlier.  And while the writer of that piece came away with a generally positive impression, saying that her tragic sexpot demeanor "begins to resemble an outright critique of female passivity", I couldn't help but find it a celebration of the idea instead.  So when Del Rey coos "Let me put on a show for you, daddy" (on "Yayo") with an unsettling combination of the macabre and the burlesque, I get a squicky feeling deep inside.  And I really, really don't want to watch.

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