After six months of fevered conjecture over the very existence of Lana Del Rey, the heavy-lidded chanteuse whose hypnotic ”Video Games” fiercely divided the blogosphere last summer, it’s still not clear exactly what the argument is. Do people dislike her because she’s too ”sexy”? Is her apocryphal backstory — the supposed millionaire father, the alleged lip augmentations (which she denies), the name change from the more benign Lizzy Grant — the issue? Or is it just because she’s scored a deluge of prerelease hype that, as her widely panned Jan. 14 appearance on Saturday Night Live showed, might not be deserved?
Born to Die’s wild swings between unqualified stunners and bizarre miscues provide no real answers, but they do produce plenty more chum for the message-board sharks. The stormy ”Dark Paradise” and industrial-cabaret shimmy ”Million Dollar Man” are both knockouts; like the best episodes of Twin Peaks, they’re dark, lovely, and just a little bit corny.
But when Del Rey falls, she really lays out: The flimsy melody propping up ”National Anthem” collapses under its embarrassing faux-rap, and ”Radio” takes a ”fame is hard” stance normally reserved for Real Housewives. The rest play out like ”Summertime Sadness,” which boasts both alluring melodic menace and lyrical eye-rollers like ”Telephone wires above all / Sizzlin’ like your stare.” Is Lana the real deal, or the result of a misguided attempt to build the perfect femme fatale out of Nico’s leather jacket and Nicki Minaj’s wig? All tabloid tawdriness aside, she unleashes some truly A-level songs. But its baffling failures drop Die to a middling, maddening C+.