TERRY GROSS, HOST:
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN TO DIE")
LANA DEL REY: (Singing) Don't make me sad, don't make me cry. Sometimes love is not enough and the road gets tough. I don't know why. Keep making me laugh. Let's go get high. The road is long, we carry on. Try to have fun in the meantime. Come and take a walk on the wild side. Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain. You like our girl's insane. Choose your last words. This is the last time. 'Cause you and I, we were born to die. We were born to die. We were born to die. We born to die. We born to die. Come and take a walk on the wild side. Let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain. You like your...
GROSS: Lana Del Rey has just released a new album titled "Born to Die." It's not her first. In 2010 and she put out a collection of songs issued as Lana Del Rey a.k.a., Lizzy Grant, the latter is her real name.
Rock critic Ken Tucker says that questions of identity and authenticity have come to dominate discussions of the singer-songwriter's music. Here's his review of "Born to Die."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VIDEO GAMES")
REY: (Singing) Swinging in the backyard. Pull up in your fast car. Whistling my name. Open up a beer. And you say get over here. And play a video game.
KEN TUCKER: Lana Del Rey appeared on "Saturday Night Live" recently, giving two rather tentative performances that, depending on your point of view, were awkward and amateurish or shrewdly restrained and vulnerable. Del Rey, in her mid-20s, attracts polarizing opinions.
Her appearance on "SNL" was only the most high-profile example of the extreme reaction Del Rey provokes. She's been labeled a phony for - what? Changing her name? Tell it to Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop. For perhaps, surgically enhancing her lips? Yes, this actually comes up on music blogs and in profiles of her. I think an awful lot of Hollywood wouldn't withstand that, if that qualifies as condemnation. There's something weirdly mean about all the negative press Del Rey has received before this album was even released. It's like high-school level meanness, directed at someone who wants to be a star and is really going for it. It's like being punished for ambition.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE JEANS")
REY: (Singing) Blue jeans, white shirt. Walked into the room. You know you make my eyes burn. It was like James Dean for sure. You're so fresh to death and sick as ca-cancer. You were full of punk rock. I grew up on hip-hop. You fit me better than my favorite sweater. And I know that love is mean, and love hurts. But I still remember that day we met in December Oh baby. I will love you till the end of time. I would wait a million years. Promise that you'll remember that you're mine. Baby can't you see through the tears? Love you more than those bitches before. Say you'll remember, say you'll remember. Oh baby who? I will love you till the end of time. Big...
TUCKER: Of course, ambition is helpful, primarily when you've got the talent to make it pay off. In this, I'd say the jury is still out when it comes to the material on "Born To Die." Del Rey has a voice and a way of phrasing that I find intriguing. Most of the time, she pitches her voice into a low register and pushes her words out as though she's moaning her blues.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN TO DIE")
REY: (Singing) Feet don't fail me now. Take me to the finish line. All my heart, it breaks every step that I take. But I'm hoping that the gates, they'll tell me that you're mine. Walking through the city streets. Is it by mistake or design? I feel so alone on a Friday night. Can you make it feel like home, if I tell you you're mine. It's like I told you honey...
TUCKER: That tune, "Born to Die," is the album's title song for a reason - it features Del Rey's most typical vocal, a sort of moody croon that increases to a supplicating intensity. The lyric actually contradicts the eye-grabbing title: The phrase born to die may imply pessimism or moroseness, but Del Rey is actually pitching a message that's something more like live life to the fullest. Del Rey does make a few false steps on this album, most notably the bad rapping - stilted and affected - that she does on "National Anthem."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NATIONAL ANTHEM")
REY: (Rapping) Money is the anthem of success so before we go out what's your address? I'm your national anthem. God, you're so handsome take me to the Hamptons, Bacardi fare on. He loves to romance them, reckless abandon. Holding me for ransom. Upper echelon. He says to 'be cool' but I don't know how yet. Wind in my hair. Hand on the back of my neck. I said, 'can we party later on? He said, yes, yes, yes.
(Singing) Tell me I'm your national anthem. Ooh, yeah, baby, bow down. Making me so wow, wow. Tell me I'm your national anthem. Sugar, sugar, how now. Take your body down town. Red...
TUCKER: What it comes down to, ultimately, is that for all the charges that Lana Del Rey is a manufactured pop star, she's actually squarely in the tradition of young performers with an assertive naiveté about how much of a rebel she wants to be. She's referred to her music as Hollywood sadcore and herself as a gangsta Nancy Sinatra. Oh dear: wasn't Nancy Sinatra, with her flat affect and boots made for walkin' pretty gangsta herself? Lana Del Rey sings about her quote-unquote "tar-black soul" but I think that at her best, she's got a red, romantic heart.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at "Entertainment Weekly." He reviewed Lana Del Rey's new album "Born to Die."
Coming up, we hear from the producers of the new NBC series "Smash," a drama about the making of a Broadway musical. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
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