It must be disappointing to many that the title track on Born to Die uses a cleaned-up version of the line “I wanna fuck you hard in the pouring rain.” Though it must be universally agreed upon that “kiss you hard” sounds more natural coming from those famously puffy lips than the vulgarity that had blogs buzzing when the live version of the song first made the rounds a few months back. Lyrics cannot be considered one of Lana’s (nee Lizzy Grant, as she is listed in the writing credits, and under which name she had previously recorded) strengths, anyway. The team of songwriters on the album includes Rick Nowels who wrote the Belinda Carlisle hit “Heaven is a Place on Earth” (which, not incidentally, is also a line from “Video Games”). Many of the tracks come off like pop culture word collages with product names, lines from other songs, lines from her own songs and lines from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita all vying for space.
In “Off To the Races” Lana sort of raps over a kick drum beat “‘light of my life, fire of my loins'” and “light of his life, fire of his loins” in what can only be described as a puzzling reference to Humbert Humbert’s ode to his prepubescent lover. We can surmise that the song is meant to be about a woman in a destructive relationship with an older man. But still. Lana must have had a recent Nabokov fixation, because she returns to “Lolita” in a song of the same name, which is a bonus track on the deluxe edition. The song breaks the Lana mold, with a musical backdrop that lets a little sunshine in and a baseline that sounds like it could have been played by a real instrument and not been run through a computer. It’s even got a chorus that sounds like Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls (after an Ambien or two) shouting “Hey, Lolita, Hey.”
The record blows its load fairly on, with the already released “Born to Die” opening the album followed by the aforementioned “Off to the Races” and then the hits that fed the Lana hype machine: “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games.” The sequencing wouldn’t seem so top-loaded if what followed was half as compelling as the breakout “Video Games.” After that highpoint things head downhill quickly with “Diet Mountain Dew,” which is as commercially saccharine and artificial as the title suggests, and then “National Anthem” (in which our heroine full on raps). And when she raps, what does Lana rap about? Well, she rhymes “handsome” with “Veyron”: “God, your’e so handsome/ Take me to the Hamptons/ Bugatti Veyron.” Sneer and say she knows whereof she speaks, or call it arch satire (the song’s refrain is “Money is the anthem”), but either way it grates.
Things pick up, so to speak, with the three-Xanax-and-gin-martini-cocktail broken-hearted baroque balladry of “Carmen,” and “Million Dollar Man.” You could argue that this mode suits Lana best: a delivery that sounds like Dido played a couple of speeds too slow backed by swelling strings or harpsichord flourishes, slowed syncopation and the odd burbling beat. And, of course, these songs are most characterized by a deep, deep wallowing self-pity. Much has been made of Lana’s inner sadness. Much has also been made of her likely crying all the way to the bank.