Monday, 30 January 2012

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die Album Review After First Listen

I thankfully didn’t discover Lana Del Rey until I heard Video Games on the radio (a Top 40 type of station I rarely listen to these days, no less). I did notice some hype but I really wish I didn’t know anything more about her. I’m quite pissed off on music "press", Twitter, music "fans" etc. All sharing their opinion on how fake or real she is way before I even had a chance to listen to her album. DIDN’T WANNA KNOW, THANKS.

Hearing Lana sing Video Games, either on the radio or my iPod, or watching her sing it live on Youtube left me with a sense of mystery but all the drama of the past month just destroyed it, if not completely. You couldn’t leave me with my illusion, could you? The case of Lana Del Rey is actually probably the first one in which the internet and social media had a completely negative impact on my perception of an artist. I found myself on the ofensive for her WITHOUT EVEN HEARING ONE FULL ALBUM OF HERS. It made me realise how much ICT sped up the normal cycle of media (lovewave-hatewave-comeback). It’s crazy, and I don’t like it at all.

Below are the (lagerly unedited) notes I took while giving Lana’s album (the regular one, not the Deluxe version) the first listen. My opinion will probably change over time, and I might write a shorter review which will sum things up a few weeks from now, or maybe not. Time will tell.

Born to Die: Technically not the first listen but a first proper listen anyway. Love the mood of the song, her voice works really well on it. Lyrics OK. As long as this is all fiction I’m onboard. The minute she starts going the Amy Winehouse route I’ll probably be turned off.

Off to the Races: Also not my first listen. Good chorus. Lyrics trying too hard sometimes. Drags a bit in verses & the bridge (around 3 min mark & the next 40 seconds).

Blue Jeans: Reminds me of a Kate Bush song too much. But no-one can get out of a comparison with a Kate Bush song winning. Quite a good song, actually, but after the first two songs it gets a bit repetitive.

Video Games: Definitely not the first listen. :) Still works but I suspect this is the sort of song you don’t wanna listen to too often. The song itself is not very inventive and it’s pretty simple in its structure but somehow it just works. When I first heard it on the radio it definitely made me pause and listen. Great mood, very atmospheric. Great song, great record.

Diet Mountain Dew: Finally a change of pace of sorts. A song that plants an interesting idea in my head: Lana is a classic movie star version of Duffy. Lyrically we can look to Macy Gray as someone who can do the „you’re no good for me“ lyrics better. Or Amy Winehouse. Whoever writes the lyrics to these songs is a bit below average from what I can tell so far. But it's hard judging lyrics on the first listen; for me anyway.

National Anthem: Verses of this song sound derivative off the Off to the Races chorus. An OK song but doesn’t stand out. Also I’d prefer if she didn’t speak in her songs at all. "Rapping" is OK but please, don’t speak a word in your songs, hun.

Dark Paradise: Also not my first listen...or maybe it reminds me of one of the previous songs? No, I must’ve heard it before. Very 90’s to my ears, which is not necessarily bad but since the rest of the album sounds like made by a 40’s gangster starlett spent a few weeks making friends with Marilyn Monroe and then decided to time travel further to 2012 to make a record in a black drug overlord’s music studio inspired by her affair with him...90’s are one timehop too much.

Radio: An extension of Dark Paradise. Her gangster obviously couldn’t give a bigger toss about her (see Video Games). An OK song. If Pink sang this one it could easily be on her Misundaztood album 11 years ago (with a slightly different production).

Carmen: A slower one, but it works. Almost as well as Video Games, actually. Reminds me of all the good things in theatrical singer-singwritery. Amanda Palmer and Chinawoman spring to mind. Too bad it comes at number 9, some people might never get that far. Could Chinawoman please cover this song? If you stripped this song of all the production (which is OK for a pop record but still); if you left just the song’s bare bones, it could be truly great.

Million Dollar Man: A nice surprise. Starts off sounding very Tori Amos-y (not just Lana’s voice which does sound Tori-like when in her higher register but the melody as well), but then some really interesting melodic choices happen and voila you have a song which actually stands out from the same few notes most of the album seems to repeat in various order. Not sure about rhyming „money“ and „honey“ though. Come on. Only ABBA can do that.

Summertime Sadness: I prefer when I can‘t guess lyrics in advance. Also another 90’s one. Reminds me of something but I quite can’t put my finger on what exactly. Aqua? Florence and the Machine? Filler.

This Is What Makes Us Girls: Sounds like Christina Aguilera’s unused song title from Stripped. A bit better than the song before but still, not a very exciting way to close the album.

Overall impressions after one listen: Lana Del Rey's Born To Die is a solid pop album. The songs range from slow to faster mid-tempo. Nothing entirely new under the sun but I've heard much much worse and way less exciting albums. Recommend to listen to it at night. Recommend it to someone who enjoys retro moods. And recommend to people who don't hate if their singer is more of a character than a real person.

Friday, 27 January 2012

My Reaction to Marcus Collins's cover of Seven Nation Army...and more

I was worried the arrangement of Marcus’s cover of Seven Nation Army would be as horrible as that of Another One Bites the Dust on the X Factor. I was worried doubly because I’m a White Stripes fan. But I’m not the sort of stuck up indie fan by any means so I tried to approach Marcus’s single with an open mind.

Here it is:

Phew! The cover is not horrible, I would almost say it’s quite good. Its vibe reminds me of Bobby Womack’s cover of California Dreaming a wee bit. I like that unlike Marcus’s version of AOBTD his cover of Seven Nation Army doesn’t ignore the bass hook. While I saw opinions that the hook got cheapened here and that the backing track sounds karaoke-like, at least it’s still there.

I never listened to any cover of SNA before. For some reason I viewed it as a record, not a coverable song. Well it’s obvious now it’s not only a genius record, it is a great song too, which can be interpreted in other ways. In hindsight you could say „duh!“ but I guess I generally don’t think about the many ways any given song I like could be played and sung differently...

I’m not against artists singing „covers“. Back in the day there was no such thing as singing a cover. Songwriters wrote songs, singers interpreted them. Many singers of the golden days of swing, jazz & blues sung the same songs. Even the early rock’n’rollers played the same songs. Part of this could be applied to the 50’s/60’s Motown as well (the era and style of music Marcus Collins loves). But then the 60’s happened and the rest is history. Back to the present and me...I quite like people reinterpreting other people’s songs. Jonsi’s beautiful cover of MGMT’s Time to Pretend springs to mind as a recent cover which could totally stand on its own. Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love was so striking most people probably never even knew the song had a 20 year-old history before they released it and pretty much everyone who covered it after uses Soft Cell’s version as a template (Marylin Manson, The Pussycat Dolls...). Jamie Cullum’s version of Don’t Stop the Music is arguably better (and sexier) than Rihanna’s dancy original. I own about 10 different version of My Funny Valentine and Night and Day alone. My point is: I have nothing against covers and reinterpretations.

But none of the „modern“ artists listed above started their career with a cover. Not even Soft Cell. Tainted Love was their first and biggest hit but not their first single. (For the record Marc Almond has regreted not putting an original song on the b-side. Having Where Did Our Love Go there made great sense from the artistic point of view but not from the economical one.) And Marcus not only starts his career with a frickin cover even though he doesn’t have to since he didn’t win the X Factor. His cover is not even his own. His vocals and vocal choices are pretty much his own but the arrangement is 2 years old and you can easily find it on Youtube (see previous link).

I like Marcus. I might not be a fan of his musical style per se but I like him and I care about him and I fail to be cynical about him as the rest of the „music fans“ are. Also I don’t think he’s a naive idiot. He’s a nice guy but he’s not stupid. So I wonder...did he have any say in this decision? There are gonna be 2 more covers on the album but the rest should be his own it so weak he actually thinks having a controversial and possibly moderate hit with Seven Nation Army is his best shot? Or was this decision made for him?

This guy’s got potential. Handsome, sweet but sexy and an actual out gay English person with a thing for Motown. Could be something new, interesting and good, if handled well. But ever since they – lazily - started making him into a British Bruno Mars type, looks, and all, I knew there was cause for worry. Not only he has a great chance of disappearing without a trace (the way most talent competition alums sadly do), he will even disappear as a (double) cheap copy of someone else, and with a cover version single which many people will hate by default.

As Elton would sing: it’s sad, so sad. It’s a sad, sad situation and it’s getting more and more absurd.