Single Review: Lana Del Rey – ‘National Anthem’

“A song that paints an idea of a deliriously tempting fantasy so saccharine that the moment you succumb you long for reality”

3 STARS

Digital Release: July 8, 2012

Physical Release: July 9, 2012

“We were born to die” is a pretty finite statement to make. And even with the sultry mystique and intrigue of someone like Lana Del Rey, it limits the extent to which you can say much else about your life, regardless of the ostentatious richness and lascivious debauchery that illustrates it and the gradual realisation that everything is nothing. But Elizabeth Grant managed to form a whole album around the notion of emotional detachment from the gross materialism that ‘Lana Del Rey’ finds company in. Riding off the premise of any doomed starlet of 1950s America and pillaging copious amounts of inspiration from any work of literature or art that can be warped to fit into her vision, Lana Del Rey’s music often suffers not because of it’s flatlining vacuousness or because its wholly out of touch with the surrounding reality, but because of its wholly out of touch with the thing she wants most to connect to – actual emotion. And let’s not forget, we’re all here – especially Del Rey – because of one song, ‘Video Games’. A song – the only song – which stood out due to it’s striking clarity and pointedness, accompanied with the first of what was to become many a vintage-effect montage video, ‘Video Games’ was honest and poignant and it owed a lot of it’s popularity to it’s uniqueness. But since the stratospheric rise to fame and the waves of backlash about Del Rey’s background, she and her label executives took it upon themselves to spin out ten other meticulously clinical songs aided with an inextricably stone-faced delivery (and thus making Del Rey sound utterly incapable of joy) in order to further consign her to the realms of the noughties balladeers like Adele and Paloma Faith. 

‘National Anthem’ is probably one of the only moments of ‘Born to Die’ that will unite Del Rey’s fans and detractors, or at least, the chorus is. While the razor-sharp candour of songs like ‘Video Games’ and ‘Born to Die’ were content enough to let even the choruses simmer plaintively in the yawning void of Del Rey’s hushed vocals, ‘National Anthem’s chorus emerges out of sludgy verses into an enormous, glittering obelisk that pierces the soft blue skies and velvet clouds on her album cover. Her voice sounds enlivened, bigger and more ethereal than ever before, as if she could actually deliver her haughty promise of sex, drugs, diamonds, and so on. Periodically, the song’s grandeur is lost whenever she returns to the verses, aiming for a conversational translation of the melody that falls somewhere between singing and rapping, sounding like Sophie Ellis-Bextor taking on the hits of Ke$ha, but lacking the personality to pull it off.

‘National Anthem’ is a partial success; where it’s good – and let’s not beat about the bush: the chorus is as flawless as Del Rey’s glowing complexion – it’s the best thing Del Rey’s ever recorded, but where it’s not so good, it simply sees her fall at the usual hurdles that she herself puts in place. She builds a viewpoint that feels out of date, and if you can get over the line “Money is the reason we exist/Everybody knows that it’s a fact/Kiss kiss” that bridges the space between the chorus and the oncoming verse, you’re still left confronted with a song that paints an idea of a deliriously tempting fantasy so saccharine that the moment you succumb you long for reality; the song, like so many of Del Rey’s songs, sits nice enough on it’s own, but as a piece of a body of cohesive work ‘National Anthem’ can often feel superfluous and pointless; a sort of snotty contrast that tries and fails to make the same message as Lily Allen’s ‘The Fear’, which cleverly mastered the nihilistic materialism of the socialite circuit to far slyer avail than Del Rey’s sulky infatuations could ever dream of.

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