Soon after the sultry single "Video Games" and its accompanying music video became a viral sensation last year, Lana Del Rey was dividing audiences. Critics lauded the singer, who releases her debut album Born to Die on Tuesday, for her songwriting talents and stark, alluring vocals. But once it was discovered that Del Rey was really failed pop star Lizzie Grant, a backlash unfolded. Critics argued that the "Lana Del Rey" persona — a Jessica Rabbit-like sexpot who refers to herself as "the gangster Nancy Sinatra" — was "manufactured" and "inauthentic." Then the singer performed on Saturday Night Live on January 14 (even though she didn't have an album out yet) and tanked so spectacularly that even NBC newsman Brian Williams branded it "one of the worst outings in SNL history." Ahead of Tuesday's official release, Born to Die was leaked in its entirety online. Are the reviews as "polarizing" as Del Rey's reputation?
It's a pleasant surprise: Born to Die is "w-a-a-y better than most would've expected," says James Montgomery at MTV. Not only does Del Rey "showcase some deft songwriting prowess" with her catchy choruses, the album "sounds like it cost a million bucks to make." Soaring strings, guitar crescendos, and eerie electronic production make Born to Die "a rather thrilling headphones experience." For all of the damage done by her perceived lack of authenticity and shaky live performances, "you've got to give Del Rey and her team credit for creating an album that fills the room and the headphones."
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It's an over-hyped mess: I was so smitten after first hearing Del Rey croon "Video Games" that I vowed to "follow that voice down a dark alley and relish whatever horrible fate awaited me," says James Reed at The Boston Globe. I simply can't, however, relish Born to Die, "a staggering disappointment." While Del Rey does fulfill her promise as "an old-world torch singer" on songs "Summertime Sadness" and "Million Dollar Man" — bright spots that suggest she's still "a work in progress" — most of these unmemorable tracks sound "like filler Lady Gaga left in the trash bin."
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Haters gonna hate: Del Rey has "been alternately lauded as the best thing ever and dismissed as a cynically manufactured fraud who can't even sing," says Ben Chalk at MSN. Unsurprisingly, Born to Die finds her somewhere between those extremes. Though no new track "matches the ethereal beauty of 'Video Games,'" they are all quite good, and, while her vocal range is small, Del Rey's "emotional range is extraordinary." Born to Die's relative lack of variety is hardly a reason to savage her, but the critical knives will come out. "Rarely does a new artist provoke reactions as extreme."
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