Now, like everyone who’s even tangentially aware of the internet music criticism scene, I had heard the abundant rumors that this album was an abomination. I had never quite believed them before, partly because I quite enjoyed the album’s lead single, the Fleetwood Mac-esque “West Coast”, and partly because many of the critics who thought this also hated her first album, Born to Die. Besides, the professional critics didn’t seem to have any particular problem with it, several even putting it on their “Best Albums of 2014” ranking, and while the published critics have their blind spots too, I tend to trust their judgment more often than that of the amateur crowd.
Now, for the record, I consider Born to Die to be a modern masterpiece, and one of the finest albums of 2012. But having now listened to the entirety of her follow-up album…yeah, this is just as awful as everyone says.
Remember, Lana Del Rey’s music is in the Baroque Pop style, like Tori Amos or Arcade Fire, and that style absolutely requires flowing, fairly traditional melody for it to work. Well, her first album had that kind of melody in spades, but apart from the deceptively decent lead single, there’s hardly a single tune on this whole album.
“Sad Girls” sounds like one of the saddest attempts at jazz singing I’ve ever heard, while “Cruel World”, “Guns and Roses” and “Florida Kilos” manage just enough melody to be intensely annoying. Granted, “Brooklyn Baby” does have a pretty tune, but unfortunately, it’s the tune of “Summertime Sadness” off her first album (seriously, the melodies are almost identical). By the end of the album, these non-tunes blend together into exactly the kind of musical wallpaper Del Rey’s detractors have always accused her of making. And the final track, “Is This Happiness?”, is wimpy enough to come off as an anticlimax even after this album.
On top of the dreary, tuneless music, the lyrics on this album are terrible. At best, they’re clumsy and uninspired, with none of the biting pith of the lyrics on her first record. At worst, they’re idiotic and unutterably simple-minded (“I’m a sad girl/I’m a sad girl/I’m a sad girl/I’m a sad girl/I’m a bad girl/I’m a bad girl”, for example, or “All those special times I spent with you, my love/They don’t mean shit compared to all your drugs”). , There’s even a song literally called “I Fucked My Way To the Top”—I’m pretty sure that’s meant to be a sarcastic statement, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid as a song lyric.
The most uncomfortable moment on the album is unquestionably the title-song, built around a word coined by the movie A Clockwork Orange to describe extremely brutal sexual violence; it also references the infamous Phil Spector composition “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)”. I gather Del Rey has been through some unpleasant experiences in her life, but this song isn’t creepy in the dramatically effective kind of way…it’s just unpleasant and kind of sickening.
Like I said, I still considered Born to Die one of the finest Indie Pop crossover albums of the decade, but after hearing this garbage, I suddenly understand much more clearly why there are people who don’t like Lana Del Rey as a musician. Fortunately, her next two albums, Honeymoon and Lust for Life, seem to represent a return to form, with all the melody and lyrical wit that seemed to be lacking on this record. Still, I can’t say the internet critics were wrong when they dubbed this one of the worst albums of the current decade, and it’s actually quite hard to believe that the woman who made Born to Die could go so far downhill in the space of one album.