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Lana Del Rey

Stone-faced, death-warmed-up/“Born To Die” neo-torch singer-songwriter, LANA DEL REY plays sad-core, gothic pop-blues from a noir-pop vantage point of inherited wealth and model looks – something she has flouted to the envy of her peers and numerous doubters. A prolific artist by today’s lackadaisical standards, the languorous Lana unveiled three albums in as many years; four if one counted her “a.k.a. Lizzy Grant” debut set of 2010. Compared to FLORENCE, BIRDY, FIONA APPLE and AIMEE MANN, she has alternative appeal, but probably for avid acolytes of the unmentionable Simon Cowell show.
Born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, June 21, 1985, New York City, but raised in Lake Placid, it was her uncle that convinced her to learn the trade, teaching her guitar while she explored her songwriting traits. Taking the moniker Lizzy Grant, although touting some material live in concert as May Jailer, her first break came when she signed a contract with 5 Points Records in 2006, on the strength of her taking the runners-up Jezebel Music Award in Williamsburg. Apprehensive and undecided for a time as she attended Fordham University, producer David Kahne saw potential in her tender vocal chords, finally digitally releasing Lizzy’s debut EP in the autumn of 2008. Lead track, `Kill Kill’, also opened the jazzy-folk set, LANA DEL REY a.k.a. LIZZY GRANT (2010) {*5}.
Her transition from stunning blonde chanteuse “torch-ing” `Yayo’ and `Hundred Dollar Bill’, into the auburn-haired persona of LANA DEL REY, was indeed remarkable in such a short space of time. Helped by her managers Ben Mawson and Ed Millett, she briefly relocated to London, England, while papers were filed to successfully revert the rights to her old contract. The fruits of their labour paid off in spades when, after a false start late in 2011 – through a YouTube PR campaign – `Video Games’ became her first hit early the following year for Interscope/Polydor.
Quite rightly, quick off the mark to cash-in on its worldwide appeal, the pouting princess of pop raced to the top of the charts with her debut album proper, BORN TO DIE (2012) {*7}. Frigid femme fatale or just part of a puppet-pop industry manufacturing yet another musical maiden into their mould, the jury was out. They’d be out for some time. Groomed for stardom and happy now to receive the attention she’d craved for several years, the Greta Garbo of pop ran up a line of hits: `Born To Die’, `Blue Jeans’ and the shockingly-twee `National Anthem’, hinting there was more to her chasm of cool. A year and a half on, the searching and sensual `Summertime Madness’ raced into the transatlantic Top 5, following on from a non-LP cut, `Young And Beautiful’.
A mini-set with much the same exotic background sleeve as portrayed on her platinum debut, PARADISE (2012) {*6}, it possessed a cinematic, vamp-ish appeal, more or less helped by her minor hit cover of `Blue Velvet’. Lyrically astute to her listener’s wants and needs (“Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend” on `Body Electric’ – the perfect example), DEL REY oozed class without stripping down to her undergarments; the attendant `Ride’ and the yearning `Gods & Monsters’ were also hits on either side of the Atlantic.
Dividing critics like marmite dished out at a suburbanite Tupperware party, album two ULTRAVIOLENCE (2014) {*7} at least swayed the doubters that alt-rock, not pop, was her master. Produced by Dan Auerbach (of The BLACK KEYS), her riveting melancholy, set against a backdrop of lush orchestral manoeuvres in a darkened room, was absorbing on the likes of the wrist-slashing `Cruel World’, `Shades Of Cool’ (BILLIE HOLIDAY, anyone?) and the No.1 set’s biggest hit, `West Coast’. Lashed to a proverbial post by her pop-picking critics, her co-penned songs shone out from an attic light on the 13th floor of a multi-million-dollar high-rise, but in her painstaking aplomb, she added character and colour – however shady – that no other rival could match.
The thought that to laugh or smile in song would ruin her career probably haunted the poor lass to tears, so in 2015’s near-chart-topping HONEYMOON {*7}, the pouting plaything persevered. Locked in a her cinematic time-warp or island of lost souls like such lovelorn actress/diva with an axe to grind, the lovely Lana played it for the cameras on `High By The Beach’, `Music To Watch Boys By’ (or “music to watch paint dry”), `Freak’, the title track and a poignant re-tread of the NINA SIMONE classic `Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Watching her videos on YouTube, rather than earworm her CDs, reflects better on an artist still yet to win over a multitude of fans – and when that happens… wow!
That austere ice-cool exterior was as serene and seductive as ever on her No.1 double-set, LUST FOR LIFE (2017) {*8}. Not so much title progenitor IGGY POP (or for that matter painter man Van Gogh) – more HOPE SANDOVAL minus the twang – sadcore singer LANA DEL REY hooked into her listener’s Sunday morning vibe. Haunting highlights included her collaborations with The WEEKND (on the title piece), ASAP ROCKY and Playboi Carti (on `Summer Bummer’), a rejuvenated STEVIE NICKS (on `Beautiful People Beautiful Problems’) and SEAN ONO LENNON (on `Tomorrow Never Came’). Possibly a tad ambitious and long, cathartic Lana still managed to make a reflective rainy day turn sunny on such beauties as `13 Beaches’, `Groupie Love’ and opener, `Love’.
Continuing her cathartic cuisine of sadness and lost love(s), the pictorial NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL! (2019) {*8} album – promoted as “NFR!” for younger listeners – matched previous Top 3 sales (UK No.1). The record was another in her melancholy trip inside the minds and cribs of the buoyant American dream sailing into the sunset like some character in a F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, brought to life by the majesty of Lana’s thought-provoking lyrical abandon. Fans of the ill-fated SUBLIME should be warned of her ripped rendition of `Doin’ Time’, a track now befitting our thin Lizzy’s moody template. This album, her sixth in total, was rightly regarded a classic of her generation, and oozing with a certain je ne sais quoi via `Mariners Apartment Complex’, `The Greatest’, the Laurel Canyon laid-back `Bartender’ and the textural prog-length `Venice Bitch’ (featuring synth flurries to die for), who could argue against this astute assumption; only time would tell. What it didn’t feature was her joint “Charlie’s Angels” film hit effort, `Don’t Call Me Angel’ that pitted her next to “pop” stars of the day, ARIANE GRANDE and MILEY CYRUS.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2015-Sep2019

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