If you just can’t stand any more here’s the elevator pitch: Born To Die is layers and layers of imagined identities celebrating unhealthy codependency, comical teenage passion, ‘degenerate beauty queens’ and a lot of red dresses. Or it’s the most mind-blowingly arch – if not entirely successful – concept album of the 21st century.
Be warned, if “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans” are all you’ve heard, you are in for a (possibly unpleasant) surprise. The vampy swagger of those tracks is quickly ditched for the type of classy pop that, with a few more synth wiggles or a key change or two, would provide excellent chart fodder for P!nk, Gaga or Katy Perry in grown up mode.
“National Anthem” is glorious. A half sung/half rapped claustrophobic pop thing that could be saying something profound about the relationship between money, artifice and sexuality, but it could equally be a load of cool-sounding gubbins about nothing. Either way it’s got a chorus that could take your eye out.
Equally “Dark Paradise” is a HUGE pop song. No, it’s proper widescreen epic pop. Imagine if all the best writers and producers decided to get together to write a definite Eurovision winner. For Sweden. Yes, it’s that good.
Despite the wobbly live performances, the vocals here are always engaging. From the ‘Chris Isaak with tits’ stylings on the singles to the annoying babydoll squeaking on “Lolita”, a young Madonna on ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘Lucky Ones’. She is a versatile vocalist but this versatility can feel less like a virtue than a subterfuge. It’s as if she can’t stop moving around her vocal range lest we pin her down and see who she really is.
Not that I have any particular interest in her ‘authenticity’; I’m mostly just looking at a way to reconcile the work of Elizabeth Grant in 2012 with the awful Malibu Stacy lyrics. LDR will put on her mascara, her red dress, do her hair up in big beauty queen style, neck some cheap beer and lounge around looking glamorous in a downbeat way while some unspecific man plays XBox. She wait for you to grab and take her – and you better do it because she will want to die if you reject her. She’s Betty Draper with beats.
Look at these:
‘I can be your China doll if you like to see me fall… I’m nothing without you.
All my dreams and all the lights mean nothing without you’ (“Without You”)
‘This is what makes us girls. We all look for Heaven and we put love first. Something that we’d die for; it’s a curse. Don’t cry about it’ (“This Is What Makes Us Girls”)
‘Got my bad baby by my heavenly side. I know I’ll die happy if I go tonight’ (“Summertime Sadness”)
‘Every time I close my eyes, it’s like a dark paradise. No one compares to you. I’m scared that you won’t be waiting on the other side’ (“Dark Paradise”)
“Don’t ask me. I’m just a girl” (Ok, that one is Malibu Stacy…)
Despite the epic pop music here, Elizabeth Grant (whether by herself or cooked up by team of calculating musical/marketing boffins) has presented us with an unsustainable, unsettling persona in LDR. While one may tire of Janelle Monaé’s Cindi Mayweather alter ego, at least Monaé’s android has a narrative that’s greater than putting lipstick on and being nothing without a man. Monaé can explore humanity’s relationship with technology: on Born To Die, Grant has pretty much covered as much as I need to explore about American teens with unhealthy but unremarkable self-esteem issues.
Where can she go then? With her knack for audaciously strong hooks, Grant could look to Gregg Alexander for a pointer. One Big Pop Album as New Radicals and then a quick retreat to the backroom to write and produce some epic pop for others.
Born To Die is released 30 January.