First Listen: Lana Del Rey's Complete Works (Including Her Disappeared Full-Length Debut)
Lana Del Rey, aka Lizzy Grant
Lana Del Rey, aka Lizzy Grant, might have had last year's then-obscure album as Lizzy Grant off the market after it floundered on iTunes for two months, but sure enough, it has resurfaced. And the record puts a lot more body under the myth and the controversy that might have fooled you into thinking she's not a talented (and outrageous) songwriter. We got a copy of her initial, David Kahne-produced debut as Lizzy Grant, and found it to be almost as fascinating as the woman herself has proven to be. So here's a primer on 2011's most controversial artist this side of Tyler the Creator, and her surprisingly durable, worth-scavenging-out singles-and-album.
What's left to say about this one? It's far, far sadder than it is sexy, the chord changes are brilliant, and even though we're extremely grateful for Amy Klein's presence as a rare last-standing feminist intellectual in indie-rock, we don't have to agree that a tour de force can't be borne from emotional near-slavery. Or from playing a part.
A much less formal single than "Video Games," therefore much easier to imagine on the universal radio. Four tried-and-true chords, screwed down to Portishead tempo with a wordy lyric pattern -- how does she breathe? This is definitely no species of retro, just alt-rock, reborn as if the Cardigans never left. I'm excited to see if people can get rich off this kind of song again.
"Diet Mtn Dew"
Another of her specialties: taking a modern mundane object, like a can of soda, and putting it in a museum. This isn't as strong as her foregrounding of jeans or video games, though. A lightly funky, lightly Latinized jump-rope to NYC with "You're no good for me" rubbing against "Baby we'll be in love forever" for a tagline. Lots of stuff she does has been done, but this has really been done. And the extra minute of synthesizer outro makes her seem more generic than she is.
Her most obvious Nancy Sinatra move, all tremolo guitars and multitracked voice. "I'm in love with a dying man/ I'm in love lying in the sand" she murmurs as lounge organ and bachelor pad staccato guitars vie with congas and "Be My Baby" drums. If Tarantino doesn't use this in his next film, he's lost faith in his own brand.
"Queen of the Gas Station"
A rock song, maybe something Jenny Lewis could mix up. "Baby if you love me, take me to the gas station." I was on a road trip through Pennsylvania once and a gas station hawked homemade fried chicken. I didn't eat it. Lana would've.
"Oh Say Can You See"
Alright, a true dull moment. Straight up soundtrack mush, with no incest play or politically incorrect musical twists. She references Nirvana for no real reason, but it is fun when she answers "Come as You Are" in an exaggerated Blanche DuBois accent: "Well I wheeeeel!"
Lily Allen-style quasi-rapping and Nellie Mckay-style... persona? Especially the teasing "Now I'm out to getchaaaa," and how her voice turns male-mockingly low at the end. This is one of her best. The line "Trouble's what feels good to me/ Crazy ass since I was 3" echoes Liz Phair's bleak-comic "even when I was 12" boast in "Fuck and Run." Again she addresses an entire audience as if they're alone in a private dance with her: "I want to be the whole world's girls, grandma."
"For K Part 2"
For all the shit she gets for co-opting old ideas, you have to love the way Del Rey combines new ones you didn't even know you wanted. Like: "Mogwai after dark."
A blooping Stereolab guitar riff that turns to an individual presence once the booming drums and kitten-range voice swoop in. Synth strings, handclaps -- pretty straight pop really, just from an era more 1997 than 1967. "Gangsta Nancy Sinatra," pfft. How about "Actually Talented Hooverphonic?"
So coked-out. Timpani or some kind of boomy drum, and strange orchestral stab-splashes, she whispers nursery rhymes about like, mermaid sexual roleplay over it. Ridiculous verses. Smooths out in the chorus. "You call me lavender/ You call my sunshine." Oh, and "You salute me, Miss America/ Because I am." Fun, nonsensical.
"Raise Me Up"
Retro slapback-echo used in a non-chillwave format, how novel! But this song has a severe case of superfluity, and her murmured vocal lines suggest her high quotability would come later. I mean, "birds are flying out of your mouth" could be Thom Yorke. The most audible lyric suggests the huge difference in confidence when she's in character. It's, "Let me play with your new shotgun!"
"Pawn Shop Blues"
Del Rey fetishizes loneliness like some sort of country singer, so it makes sense she's got a fake-Patsy tune. But country isn't her strong suit. You sing a purty tune, but leave the roadhouse blues to Best Coast, Lana.
"I look for you in magazines," she repeats three times before pausing and sighing, "I'm taking off my wedding ring." As obsessed with celebrity as Lady Gaga, if much more complex and also obsessed with metaphysics. "I'm waving on the silver screen." At who? At everyone? Lana's obsessed with an algebra equation that many stars never solve: how to cater directly to one's audience as intimately as possible while remaining controlled, frozen in celluloid and preserved in perfect condition. Considering the backlash, it's also understandable she'd want the screen to protect her from them too.
"Put Me in a Movie"
Ridiculous title that dares all her haters to eat shit, with a lyric to match. If you thought the rueful "Video Games" was setting a trap, wait until you hear her taunt: "I know you like the little girls," You can me be my daddy," and "You're my little sparkle jump rope queen." She's either having the hottest ageplay sex of all time, fetishizing the lax attitude towards fucking 14-year-olds that comes with the retro era she recalls longingly, or working damningly in character as an actual pedophile. Her most outrageous song by some distance. Even the relatively tepid "Lights, camera, action" refrain sounds like she's singing (winking?) "lights, camera, axiom."
This one's adorable, as long as you don't read it as a brown-nose to her geeky fans at Pitchfork. "Who has a face like Smarty does? Who has a voice like Smarty does?" One of her goofiest prayers to Her Man; the "say you'll never leave me" isn't even believable. Be honest: "Tell me that I feel like Christmastime" is exactly what you'd want to hear in a vibrating bed on lots of drugs.
This sounds like a Portishead interlude, the way the high notes she only scrape feel like ceilings. Fiona Apple does this sort of thing all the time, but a modernized version -- Lana wants to be the original crackling record, down to the winsome catering of "Let me put on a show for you, daddy," which likely pisses off a lot of people. The thing is, power and submission games during sex don't automatically signal sexism. And I love how she subtly skirts the inequality, sneaking in a hushed "and you can call me mama" toward the close. What's that old cliché again? That the sub is really in control?
"Kinda Outta Luck"
This one's a riot. I was embarrassed by the goofy video at first, and now I love this. The fakeout intro is the ersatzization that lounge-murder ballads deserve, and then this turns into a tightly rhymed rocker with awkward lyrics ("when I hit you in the back of the head with a gun?") and an elaborate setup for a punchline that's more fun than Lady Gaga's own fake Tarantino "Telephone" video. Her most bombastic chorus and most gleeful nostalgia piece. Smarter than April March, as fun as real Tarantino.
Finally, the fake Bond theme you knew she had in her, and with a better bassline than you expected. Her dedication to keeping the songs pop and current lyrically -- "make the boys fall like dominos" awesomely subverts the Big Pink's sexist indie hit -- and castanet-certified retro musically. That said, this is the best Britney Spears song that never was. If she'd only built the entire album that "Toxic" deserved. (meaning In the Zone; I love Blackout, Britney, and Femme Fatale). Nitsuh Abebe pointed out how likeable it is that her vision of "Lolita" stays true to the original, gum-snapping Dolores Haze. Not that it matters, but yes.