Lana Del Rey has been nothing short of an anomaly. She has a unique voice, particularly when she courts her lower register. At times, Del Rey
indulges so much into the richness of her voice that her vocals are indecipherable. On EP Paradise, Lana Del Rey concedes little from her debut effort Born To Die. Paradise is very much in the same alt-pop vein with hip-hop oriented drum programming buttressing down the moody, string/piano oriented production. Paradise arguably begins more promising, with cuts “Ride” and “American” initiating a solid start, but soon yields some clumsier “throwaways.” Despite the flaws, Lana Del Rey still manages to impress just enough with her unique timbre, even when the material is forgettable or lacking. The question is, has Del Rey ever lived up to the glory of her smash hit “Video Games”? (That’s rhetorical by the way).
Paradise: The Selections
“Ride” starts off the EP as mysteriously as any Lana Del Rey selection. Del Rey is firmly fixed in her lower register which is undoubtedly both rich and unique. Del Rey does manage to ascend into her upper register, where she is much more decipherable and precise as a vocalist. Produced by the legendary Rick Rubin, “Ride” has a more standard pop/rock groove, but still possesses that key alternative-pop sensibility. The obligatory strings reside here, something that was both a nice touch though over exploited on her debut. The songwriting is solid by all accounts here, particularly the chorus: “I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast/I am a lone in the night/been trying hard not to get into trouble, but I/I’ve got a war in my mind…” Del Rey grows more pointed on the bridge, as she sings “I’m tried of feeling like I’m f*cking crazy/I’m tired of driving til I see stars in my eyes…” Overall, the pieces all work solidly on “Ride.”
“American” keeps the momentum established by “Ride” alive. The tempo is slower than the opener and James Gadsen’s live drums are replaced by drum programming in the hip-hop idiom (Emile Haynie). Lana Del Rey clings on to her robust lower register, but manages to sound much more decipherable than usual. “You make me crazy, you make me wild/just like a baby, you spin me round like a child/your skin so golden brown/beyond the dope I’m proud/Like an American,” she sings ‘patriotically’ on the chorus. All-in-all, it seems as if Paradise possesses better material than Born to Die, at least at first.
“Cola” possesses a similar sound to one of my favorite cuts from Born to Die, “Carmen” (“They boys, the girls, they all like Carmen,” etc.) as far as production is concerned with dark strings initiating. Add to the dramatic opening Del Rey’s shocking opening lyric, where she sings “my p*ssy tastes like pepsi cola…,” which is enough to shock even the most liberalized listener. It may be the most notable moment in the song, certainly establishing the tone for a sensually-charged performance. “Come on baby, let’s ride/we can escape to the great sunshine/I know your wife and she wouldn’t mind/we made it out to the other side…” And what does this song really have to do with Pepsi? Add upper register vocals from Del Rey as well as breathy moments and “Cola” wreaks of sex. It’s interesting, not revolutionary or exceptional.
“Body Electric” continues in the moody vibe of which Lana Del Rey has epitomized, featuring foreboding, gargantuan drums. The lyrics are interesting if somewhat odd and overtly simple: “Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend/we don’t need nobody, cause we got each other…” Basically, it seems too ‘tongue-in-cheek’ and ludicrous. The cut takes on this same sort of ‘so what’ vibe as it sort of ‘sits’ as opposed to being revolutionary or unpredictable. The chorus works fine, but again doesn’t sell the song as the next great hit by any means.
“Blue Velvet” is a moment of ‘salvage’ for Del Rey as it restores some conceded momentum. It proves to be the perfect match for Del Rey’s unique voice. Larry Gold does a fine job of arranging the strings, which are performed by the Larry Gold Orchestra fittingly. The drum programming is a nice touch as well, even given acoustic strings as opposed to synthetic ones.
Also how about the Bobby Vinton version for your entertainment!
“Gods & Monsters” quickens the pace of Paradise for once, something that the rather boring Lana Del Rey needs to hieghten her personality. On the pre-chorus, Del Rey makes a dual reference (arguably) to both ‘drugs’ and ‘sex’ (“You got that medicine I need/dope, shoot it up, straight to the heart please/I don’t really wanna know what’s good for me/God’s dead, I said ‘baby that’s alright with me’) while on the refrain she drops Jim Morrison of The Doors (“No one’s gonna take my soul away/I’m living like Jim Morrison/headed towards a f*cked up holiday/motel sprees and I’m singing…”) Performed in typical Lana Del Rey fashion, “Gods and Monsters” is ultimately lazy (tempo aside) and restrained. It is the passivity of “Gods & Monsters” that gives it a sense of lethargy to an extent.
“Yayo” is a disappointment, feeling incredibly sleepy and forgettable. Del Rey is able to showcase the gems and the quirks of her distinctive pipes, but that doesn’t prove enough to make the pop/jazz tandem of “Yayo” truly notable. At least Del Rey sneaks in a clever line at the beginning as she sings “I like the snake on your tattoo/I like the ivy and the ink blue…” – whatever she’s referring to!
“Bel Air” closes unexceptionally, as Del Rey proclaims “Roses, Bel Air, take me there/I’ve been waiting to meet you/Palm Trees in the light, I can see late at night/Darling I’m waiting to greet you/Come to me baby…” Despite it unexceptional nature as a whole, there are some nice cues, including the use of space following each iteration of the chorus. Also, the use of piano is a nice touch.
Overall, Paradise does not show much more ‘range’ than Born To Die. Essentially, the audience is receiving more of the same thing from an artist who seems to need to prove herself more. Yes, Born To Die sold 77,000 copies its first week out, but it has not been certified gold. Additionally, Born To Die didn’t score any top ten singles nor any notable alt singles that sported enough critical memorability. Paradise seems to be slated as that transitional EP to keep Del Rey’s profile alive and well in preparation for the future. It should please her base, but won’t convert her skeptics ultimately.
Play These: “Ride” (Lana Del Rey/Justin Parker, produced by Rick Rubin); “American” (Lana Del Rey/Rick Nowels/Emile Haynie, produced by Rick Nowels and co-produced by Emile Haynie); “Blue Velvet” (Lee Moris/Bernie Wayne, produced by Emile Haynie)