I have set several rules for myself for this blog. One of the things that I have promised to do on this blog is to let my writings stand as they are, whether good or bad. Sometimes I reread things I have written and cringe and sometimes I am quite proud. I can always change my mind in writing something new, but I will not reedit anything I have written other than to correct spelling and grammar errors. This way I can be as true as possible in the moment.
One of the recent blogs that makes me cringe is my recent review of the Lana Del Rey album. In order to point out the small faults that I found in it I feel that I was too harsh and did not explain in full what I actually like about it. It is actually writing music reviews that I often feel the least adequate, despite music being a subject that I know a great deal about. This is because often first impressions of a record are incorrect. The best albums are often growers and ones that are great initially often wear out quickly.
I feel and have always felt that the most essential part of any kind of music with a vocal is the vocal. I could listen to a brilliant singer singing over a Casio keyboard. Conversely I can’t stand even the most brilliant musical offerings if the singer is singing in a voice that doesn’t register emotionally with me and whose words are full of clichés. The human voice in song is the best window into someone’s soul. And whatever criticism one throws at Lana Del Rey, I believe that in her singing she has found her own unique voice. It is instantly recognizable and it is filled with beauty and pain. Singing is not something that can be faked. Although I feel slightly that she could have been done a better service by her collaborators on her new record, this by no means gets in the way of me enjoying the record overall or feeling that it has value as a piece of art. In fact it is quite possible that as I continue to listen to it I will grow to like the very things that at first threw me off. I know that this is a record that I will continue to spin for years to come. It has a damaged late night feeling that sounds fantastic once the sun has gone down.
How do you articulate that something is lacking, while at the same time making it clear that even with its faults it far surpasses many of the other things on the airwaves? This is tricky business. Are the arrangements as well done as a Dusty Springfield record? The answer would be no. Are they better than many other things happening in mainstream pop at the moment? The answer to that would be yes. Both questions are both fair and unfair. You want to judge something in and of itself, but it is hard to not compare it to what has come before it and what is going on around it. When you talk about a piece of art you must try to find that balance between taking it for what it is and also trying to look at it in it’s place in the greater spectrum of things.
From making records myself I know how many things are out of one’s hands. A bad mix can take the air out of a good arrangement. Even for someone like Lana Del Rey who probably has a large budget, there are still budgetary concerns and time restraints. You are also in the hands of other musicians, producers, and engineers. You start with an idea in your imagination and slowly reality chips away at it. Sometimes this can be to the benefit of something and sometimes not. That is just part of life and part of the process of creating something that involves other people. One has to fight for things that one believes in and also learn to let certain things go.
So when I criticize something that I like all of this is weighing upon me. I write quickly, another one of my rules, to try to get as close to the emotion that I am feeling as best possible. Sometimes emotions can lead you astray.
In trying to point out this particular record’s faults I feel that I did not do its strengths justice. Whatever the perceived media image of her it is clear that she is not playing by any rules other than her own. The record is dark and murky and displays uncomfortable emotions at times. This is not the kind of music that is going to get played on morning radio as people try to forget the day ahead of them, unless somewhere there is someone in power that is a fan that slips it in. It sounds timeless, but could not have been made at any time other than now. This is the sound of a real human voice that feels the struggle of being alive. She sounds older than her years and beaten down by the world, but somehow beautiful and fearless despite this. Even though I feel there are some things in the production that could be better, she was brave enough to make a record that didn’t kowtow to modern recording trends. Yes, there are some faults with this record, but maybe it is all the more human because of it. I am sure that I will keep listening to it and as I change so will my opinion of it. Whatever it is though, it is not disposable.