In the fifteen songs on “Born to Die,” Del Rey is both theatrical and noncommittal. But the new album does not make “Lana Del Rey aka Lizzy Grant” seem like an error that needed redacting. The earlier work had a variety of tempos, styles, and moods, which may be exactly why Del Rey ditched it; its song titles hinted at a notion of going retro (“Put Me in a Movie,” “Mermaid Motel”), but the ungainly album title revealed ambivalence about Grant’s identity. “Born to Die,” by contrast, is a model of consistent branding. The string section thrums in permanent lassitude, the number of beats per minute hovers in the eighties, and Del Rey’s pliable, smoky voice suggests that nothing is a problem, including the narrative contradictions that she plants throughout the album.
Several demos were leaked before the album’s release, and they played with faster tempos and guitars and more aggressive sounds. All of that is gone. The lack of active rhythms was a wise correction by somebody: Del Rey is often at a loss when mobile—she won’t be challenging Beyoncé to a dance-off anytime soon—but she’s fairly compelling when simply looking into a camera and declaiming. Anyone crouching on the Internet, ready to tag Del Rey’s mistakes, will be frustrated by “Born to Die,” which is too expert to register as a failure.