And that’s where the beginning of the end begun. The lyrics of the last song gives way to the first, and in the end, Born to Die by Lana Del Rey is a circle of glamor, love, and misery. Before hitting notes of divinity on the slow, black-and-white molasses likes of Ultraviolence, Del Rey took the mic first with her 2012 album, a shattering slow party of high glamor. Even just the name, which suggests a high-adventure, runaway past, Del Rey is an artifact of different times.
There’s nothing like the first song, “Born to Die,” where we witness the beauty of doomed youth. There’s something about burning out bright and fast that’s always engrossed our pop culture, and Del Rey channels Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann-style. “Off to the Races” picks up right after, spinning a fast love story of a sleazy young woman and my old man; breathless, impossibly important, it’s only the second song Del Rey has spent in her carefully crafted enigma, and she’s got us sold. It’s hard to imagine the lyrics are real, that the Queen of Coney is singing away memories. But Del Rey croons with such conviction, you get lost in the smoke, a haze that’s poisonous and fascinating. At what point is she self-aware, satirical, even? Maybe it doesn’t matter--and the orchestra returns to the mic, like a great centennial love story.
While “Born to Die” was picturesque, squarely burning, “Blue Jeans” has grease on the denim, leaning, desperate, with emotions riding high like gas levels on an electric car. I will love you till the end of time, Del Rey chants, even as life for the narratrice grows knotted, complicated, and sad. “Diet Mountain Dew” is a glittering diadem, rocking, swift with motion all the way to New York City. The genius of the album cannot be understated. It’s a collision of fateful forces, her music: Del Rey’s incisive songwriting, a devastating voice, and a taste for luxurious sound. Love is thrown around like a question of fact, embroidering dreams, as Del Rey’s sweet death becomes a swimming blur.
Ever cinematic, “National Anthem” is all fireworks, whooping, glittering in the background. Its secrets of the state involve pretty girls and pretty boys, stretched to superlatives. They’re the last of their kind, a final perfect youth. Del Rey’s own self-awareness trims the edges, as she bemoans the winin’ and dinin’, drinkin’ and drivin’, excessive buyin’, overdose and dyin on our drugs and our love and our dreams and our rage, blurring the lines between real and the fake. Listening to the music, you’re both attracted to the glamor, and repelled by the truth. “Carmen” is the story of the girl on the street who has everything, yet whose sadness and happiness remains a mystery. And Del Rey has her eye on green paper, describing her filthy rich lover in “Million Dollar Man,” her voice breaking a little when she asks, [You] look like a million dollar man, so why is my heart broke? Finally, on one of my favorites, “This Is What Makes Us Girls,” Del Rey returns to the place where it all began. Basking in former small town glory, she capitalizes the sad, sweet “curse” of beautiful girls. We don’t stick together because we put love first, she sings; and it’s suggested, maybe we should. But the end is coming. No matter. There’s an eerie truth to the refrain: We were born to die.