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Paradise’ Almost There

Sam Stryker | Friday, November 16, 2012

Being a female pop star today entails more than just singing. In fact, on the list of requirements to make it big on the music scene, the ability to sing ranks pretty low on necessary traits. Higher on the list includes cultivating a certain persona or act, collaborating with the hottest producers and maintaining a certain degree of fame (or infamy).
This formula of sorts has been followed to a “t” by American songstress Lana Del Rey, whose latest EP, “Paradise,” was released Nov. 13. “Paradise” continues the development of Del Rey as both a singer and an artist following the release of her debut studio album “Born to Die” in January. Featuring just eight songs, “Paradise” fits in with Del Rey’s act while also being more tightly produced and efficient than “Born to Die”.
Del Rey’s music is based not so much in her talent (which she does have) as it is in her persona. Born Lizzy Grant, Del Rey took several stage names before settling on her current title. The singer describes her image best as a “self-styled gangsta Nancy Sinatra” or “Lolita lost in the hood”. Either are bizarre descriptions, but they are fitting: Del Rey takes cinematic music that harkens back to the 1960s and gives it a modern twist. It’s high-concept stuff and it sounds better in theory than it does on an album.
Del Rey has crafted a persona to live up to, and her progression as a singer-songwriter is as much about crafting better music as it is crafting music that better fits into and pushes her role. With such a challenging character to portray, it’s only natural to think it is going to take time for Del Rey to get “better” at playing it. And in “Paradise,” she does.
The first track, “Ride,” might be Del Rey’s best song ever. It is sweeping and grandiose and has a remarkable way of being multi-faceted, a departure from many of Del Rey’s glum one-dimensional songs. Additionally, “Ride” isn’t bogged down by some of ultra-melancholy themes that can be repetitive in Del Rey’s work. Instead, the track, produced by Rick Rubin, is catchy without being generic, extravagant without being pretentious. Be sure to check the song’s mini-film (It’s hard to call it a music video when it’s longer than 10 minutes.) It’s trashy, kitschy and American in the best (and worst) way possible, but also highlights one of Del Rey’s weaknesses: Sometimes, it seems like she is trying too hard and is being controversial for controversy’s sake.
This notion of trying too hard serves as a perfect segue to the second single off the album, “Cola.”. Shockingly enough, the song is not about the drink but how Del Rey claims her boyfriend describes a certain one of her body parts. The song itself is catchy and fluid, but when combined with her playing a prostitute in the “Ride” music video and describing her act as Lolita-like, it sometimes seems like Del Rey is being a lightning rod of controversy so people will listen to her music out of shock or curiosity, rather than because of her talent.
It’s a bit of a shame, because listening to “Paradise,” it is readily apparent Del Rey has the vocals that so many female singers are lacking. Normally, pop stars use an “image” or “act” to cover up vocal deficiencies, but in Del Rey’s case, her persona can tend to mask or hide her true talent. Listening to “Paradise,” it is readily apparent that her voice caresses and plays with the lyrics in a beautiful, gentle way, especially on “American” and “Body Electric”. Del Rey has also done a good job of singing about more diverse themes than her typical “sadcore” sound. Her signature melancholy sound achieves new dimensions in the spritely “Blue Velvet” and the aforementioned “Ride” and thus her music is a more enjoyable listen.
Overall, “Paradise” is a solid effort from Del Rey and a nice collection of songs – a step in the right direction, if you will. Del Rey’s next move as an artist is to discover a balance between “Lana Del Rey” and her music. It couldn’t hurt to further develop the themes and emotions behind her music. The talent is there, now she just needs to highlight it better.
Contact Sam Stryker at
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