Lana Del Rey’s ‘Paradise’: Album Review

“I’ve been trying too hard with one pretty song,” Lana Del Rey laments on “Ride,” in a line that accurately sums up Born To Die‘s overwrought attempt to stretch that one pretty song — “Video Games” — into a full album. The result was a handful of beautiful moments weighed down by a whole lot of distracting missteps. But where her proper debut was labored, tacky and cutesy-sad, the nine previously unreleased tracks on the Paradise EP (out and also packaged with Born To Die: The Paradise Edition) are effortless, elegant and glamorously depressing.

Everything here sounds more convincing, primarily because Lana’s voice is suddenly richer and more acrobatic, going from smoky to silky, sad to snotty, all without resorting to the schizoid vocal gimmickry of her debut. Those who think this girl can’t sing will reconsider after hearing the swooning falsetto run that comes out of nowhere on “Cola,” or the graceful yet damaged chirp of “Yayo.”

In other welcome news, the lyrics this time (save for “American”) are not nearly as ripe for face-palming — partly because many of them are batshit insane. Lana quotes Walt Whitman on “Body Electric” minutes after uttering “My pussy tastes like Pepsi cola/ My eyes are wide like cherry pie” on “Cola,” which is definitely absurd and probably brilliant. On paper, parts of “Gods And Monsters” could be a trashy outtake from Rihanna‘s “S&M”: “I was an angel / Looking to get fucked hard…Fuck yeah, give it to me / This is heaven, what I truly want.” But the lines are delivered with such sultry numbness that it could be some grand statement on sex and detachment, whether or not that was Lana’s intention.

Thankfully, the sexualization on Paradise comes without Born‘s troublesome infantilization. On “Burning Desire,” “Ride” and elsewhere, Lana is no longer willing to let you play your video games, she’s the active agent. When she does go into submissive mode, crooning “Let me put on a show for you, daddy” on “Yayo,” it’s too damn haunting to be erotic.

With Lana’s voice taking the spotlight and carrying such emotional heft, the production was dialed back. Canned strings, rising fuzz squalls and that ubiquitous “ShYAH” sample were slathered on so thick that Born To Die‘s fifteen tracks all blurred into one syrupy groan. Here, the empty spaces are as important as the cascading strings and the most restrained moments are vastly more powerful than the most blown-out moments from Born To Die. The melancholy waltz of “Bel Air,” for instance, has a forest nymph chant for a chorus, and it’s quite possible that the EP’s most fun song is the weepy “Blue Velvet,” due to its unabashed commitment to stillness. Even when Lana goes big here, like on the Rick Rubin-produced opener “Ride,” it has all the grandeur that she aimed for on “National Anthem” without the grating affectations and manufactured swagger.

The new material surely isn’t perfect — “Burning Desire” ventures dangerously close to her “drunken Real Housewife” vocal tic, and she still pummels the listener with damaged Americana reference points — but Paradise is a major step forward for Lana Del Rey. By ditching the sonic fads (you won’t be missed, sad white girl rapping), shoring up her vocals, and skipping over her more bombastic unreleased songs (“Serial Killer,” “Paradise”), Lana has made a cohesive, moving record. The irony, of course, is that now that she has delivered on the hype…people might actually stop talking about her.

The Best Song Wasn’t The Single: “Yayo,” in all its woozy burlesque glory, has been transformed into the most interesting song Lana has ever done. The lyrics are largely indecipherable, but it still drips with sadness; it sounds the way watching Anna Nicole Smith circle the drain felt.

Pops Like: Fiona Apple meets Chris Isaak crossed with Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday,” as Kanye West‘s production scraps flit around in the background.

Best Listened To: While wearing formal cocktail attire that has become slightly rumpled following some sort of intense argument and/or sexual dalliance.

Full Disclosure: I flat-out DID NOT ENJOY Born To Die, but after hearing Paradise, I may be the world’s newest Lanatic.

Idolator Rating: 4.5/5

Carl Williott

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