The title of Lana Del Rey’s new EP Paradise presents a bit of irony, because its dark, haunting and troubling themes really speak of anything but.
Let me start by saying Lana Del Rey as a persona seems like a real dichotomy to me—a blending of two seemingly incompatible vibes. On the one hand, she comes off as this elegant retro-style torch singer, her low, sultry voice lilting over lush string arrangements; but then you listen to the lyrics, and…wait, what? It’s flat-out unnerving to hear her smoothly croon, “My p**sy tastes like Pepsi Cola” (“Cola”) or “I was an angel looking to get f**cked hard” (“Gods and Monsters”). Not entirely unlike taking a glass of expensive wine and adding a shot of motor oil to it. And yet—that…that voice. It somehow makes the whole thing believable. Sadly believable.
From a musical standpoint, this nine-song EP doesn’t break any new ground for Del Rey, but simply galvanizes the overall sound she’s trying to forge. Paradise basically sounds like an extension of Born To Die released earlier this year, which is probably why it is available both as a stand-alone recording or packaged with the earlier record as Born To Die -The Paradise Edition.
However, thematically, Paradise takes things a step further than Born To Die, reinforcing Del Rey’s persona as glamorous-yet-hollow woman resigned to being used and abused by men with one thing on their minds. While unflinching in its sexuality, it’s actually more startling than it is pornographic. Perhaps the most poignant example is the song “Gods and Monsters,” with its references to drug-dazed, sleazy motel trysts in the aftermath of alienation from God. “Dope, shoot it up / Straight to the heart, please / I don’t really wanna know what’s good for me”, she sings. “F**k yeah, give it to me / This is heaven, what I truly want / It’s innocence lost.” You can almost picture Del Rey as a glassy-eyed, submissive rag doll, beautiful but lifeless. Simply devastating.
One bright spot on the record (and by “bright” I mean “less dark”) is Lana Del Rey’s cover of the classic tune “Blue Velvet.” Her voice was made for songs like this one—that’s all I can really say. It’s a definite must-listen.
So blatant are the glutton-for-abuse themes in Lana Del Rey’s songs that she’s often been accused of being “anti-feminist.” However, I’m not sure that’s true of her. While the character she has created could certainly be interpreted as glorifying the sordid, at the same time it is so blatantly pathetic that I can’t help but wonder if she’s trying to convey the opposite message. Beyond feminism (or anti-, if you prefer), the dichotomy in her persona, whether she means it this way or not, makes some sort of statement about all of us—like, despite all our varied attempts to appear glamorous, underneath it all, we’re all just trailer park trash. You can agree or disagree with the conclusion, but one thing about the picture Del Rey paints (both with her persona and with her songs) is that it makes us think. And that may be exactly her intention.
At any rate, Paradise really speaks of Paradise Lost. While it is definitely haunting, it is also definitely beautiful—and for that reason alone, it is worth a listen.