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Review: Lana Del Rey – Video Games / Blue Jeans

By Tom Midlane

The internet age has been a blessing for music fans, giving us instant access to the entire history of popular music. But it’s becoming harder to keep a secret now that new acts can come to global attention in hyper-quick time. Enter stage left Miss Lana Del Rey.

The video for ‘Video Games’ became a word-of-mouth YouTube sensation on the back of a beautiful cut-up video of pop culture ephemera, loving spliced together by Del Rey herself, featuring 50s paparazzi, the Hollywood sign, drunken actress Paz de la Huerta, skateboarders, kissing couples and night-time LA with its bleeding neon and winding streets.

It quickly racked up half a million hits before Disney objected to the use of some cartoon footage. Quickly re-edited and rejigged, the video has now reached well over two million hits. That Del Rey (real name Lizzy Grant) chose to use Disney footage in the first place somehow seems apt – like all the best pop stars (Bowie/Dylan/Madonna), there’s something inherently cartoonlike about her.

There’s nothing cartoonlike about that voice though, which sounds impossibly ancient and otherworldly, freighted with unimaginable sorrow. When she sings “I will love you ‘till the end of time / I would wait a million years,” on the chorus of ‘Blue Jeans’, her voice brimming with utter desolation, you can’t help but believe her.

But it’s ‘Video Games’ that is the real gem here. A gorgeous, sombre, heartbroken ballad, its sparse piano chords and harp lead into a string-washed chorus that makes you want to swoon like a maiden in a Gothic novel. The lyrics, ostensibly about being in love, become unbearably bittersweat in Del Rey’s smoky tones: “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you, everything I do/ I tell you all the time / Heaven is a place on earth where you / Tell me all the things you want to do / I heard that you like the bad girls / Honey, is that true? / It’s better than I ever even knew/ they say that the world was built for two”.

Del Rey is also clearly a talented filmmaker – the ‘Video Games’ video perfectly captures her aesthetic, inspired by 50’s Hollywood, John Waters and the faded fairground rides of Coney Island. With her kohl eyes, beestung lips, and patented “doomed suicidal starlet” pout, she looks for all the world like a David Lynch heroine (think Camille Rhodes in Mulholland Drive). Del Rey describes herself as the “gangsta Nancy Sinatra”, but I’d say the postmodern Judy Garland is more apt.

Then there’s ‘Blue Jeans’, which lives up to its status as a double A-side. There’s a chorus that channels Kate Bush, with more than a hint of Chris Isaak’s smouldering ‘Wicked Game’. And like the Isaak song – one of those tracks that couples get married to, seemingly unaware it’s about heartbreak and loss – there’s a serious sting in the tail, as Del Rey sings: “Love you more than those bitches before / say you’ll remember.”

Del Rey has been the target of some snarky comments from the nerdier anorak end of the music blog community after she admitted that the Lana Del Rey moniker had been thought up by her manager and lawyers, leading to charges that she was a manufactured, pre-packaged star. To which the correct response is: Who cares? The whole idea of authenticity in music is junk. The Stooges and the Sex Pistols were both signed to a major label. Elvis (a Del Rey hero) didn’t write his own songs. Does that make either any less brilliant? Only if you’re an idiot.

Having grown up in rural Lake Placid on the outskirts of New York State, Del Rey upped sticks and moved to New York City aged 18 to seek her fortune. And after an abortive first attempt at stardom (her original EP, released in January 2010 as Lizzy Grant, has since been deleted), all the signs are that this time around success is assured.

The challenge now is going to be to try and match the brilliance of ‘Video Games’, but let’s forget that for now. To go back to the Judy Garland analogy: A star is born.

Video Games / Blue Jeans is available to download on October 16 and as a limited edition 7″ vinyl picture disc on October 17 on Stranger Records.

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