Hear Me Out: Why we love Lana Del Rey

By Chris Azzopardi

Lana Del Rey, 'Born to Die'

Focus on Lana Del Rey's enigmatic image and you miss the point: Her major-label debut, "Born to Die," is an intoxicating hit of theatrical trip-hop from the seductress of song. Unfairly trashed for a one-off "SNL" blunder and controversially questioned for her authenticity, the New York chick-turned-polarizing pop star - and self-proclaimed "gangster Nancy Sinatra" - casts a hypnotic spell on the album, a thrilling, death-obsessed sound fever that's maddening and masochistic. That chill was first realized on throwback "Video Games," turning her boyfriend's Nintendo habits into a haunting, and painfully sad, portrait of unrequited love. Darkness doesn't let up as "Born to Die" shakes out: The title track, a favorite, uses morality as an excuse for reckless abandon while her American Dream is crushed on "Blue Jeans," moving from the art-chic edginess of David Lynch melodramatics to a frantic spin-out climax. Ironically now, she relishes in newfound acceptance ("Radio"), and then has a weakness for a bad boy ("Million Dollar Man"), throws caution to the wind ("Summertime Sadness") and dreams of a lost love ("Dark Paradise"). The voice that carries them all, a retro lounge sound that cradles an alluring lower register, is like ear ecstasy. As for Lana Del Rey herself? The 25-year-old's been called "fake" and "manufactured," but the insecurities and fears and heartache she exposes are all very real. Grade: A-

Kellie Pickler, '100 Proof'

For how strong Kellie Pickler comes on with the traditionalist country of her third album, the "100 Proof" title does more than befit the switch. Effectively capable of lingering like a potent liquor, the word-challenged reality star ditches her Shania Twain post-"Idol" roots for Tammy Wynette (Pickler's not making that serious face on the cover for nothing). And that's not just because she name-drops her - to wonderful effect, in fact, on a feisty homage to the legendary lady, who plays her spiritual guide of sorts - but Pickler has never sounded so in her zone as the anti-Carrie Underwood of country. Pseudo-genre songs never fit the North Carolina native's obvious accent, so she's right at home channeling Wynonna grit on "Tough" and doing a classic-sounding porch-song, "Rockaway (The Rockin' Chair Song)." On her career best, Pickler has a hand from producers Frank Liddell and Luke Wooten, pulling together an impressive balance of hard-hitters ("Unlock the Honky Tonk," doing just that) and earnest ballads. One of them, "Mother's Day," is a sad rumination on Pickler's own real-life mom who abandoned her as a kid (for dad: "The Letter"); another, "Long as I Never See You Again," is emoted with great sensitivity in her pinched vocal style, as a song about post-breakup healing should be. Her greatest vocal turn, however, is on the love-by-comparison title track, further proof that Pickler isn't just another reality show write-off. She's done Tammy proud. Grade: B+

Also Out

Ingrid Michaelson, 'Human Again'

Boy drama fuels Ingrid Michaelson's fifth album with references to relationships as a blazing abyss and a battle of hearts. "I won't surrender," declares the 32-year-old modern-day Lilith lady. And she doesn't, giving it her all on 15 tracks - released independently on her own record label - of chin-up mantras ("Do It Now"), being universally human ("Blood Brothers") and the faceted feelings of romance ("How We Love"). Rarely does Michaelson, who goes for a grander sound of walloping pop melodies and a refined finish, fall into the coffeehouse vibe she built her career on. Still, she manages to capture that intimacy even when her songs are bursting at the seams.

Elizaveta, 'Beatrix Runs'

She's tagged "opera pop," but Elizaveta Khripounova's Bach-meets-Bjork sound on her accomplished full-length debut is in line with Tori Amos and Regina Spektor, her vocal twin. "Odi Et Amo" is rooted in that classical training, and her century-spanning brand of art-pop extends to "Dreamer" and "Armies of Your Heart," an enchanting radio-baited power ballad with an electro intro and hyper-string lining. "Goodbye Song," on just piano, is a touching display of affection for the end of a relationship; "Snow in Venice" has a dainty theatrical slant and "Orion" leans on contemporary tropes. Elizaveta has the makings of a new hipster goddess.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at http://www.chris-azzopardi.com.
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