Music review: Lana Del Rey, Academy, Birmingham


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The Independent Culture

Accompanied by two faux-stone lions, a plastic palm tree and art-deco frames for the video screens, Liberace would feel at home in Birmingham tonight. Instead, the chintz and fevered anticipation are for a less theatrical performer. Having enjoyed a meteoric rise on the back of 2011’s viral hit "Video Games", the artist previously known as the winsome Lizzy Grant has struggled to match that pace.

A wobbly appearance on US show Saturday Night Live before her album’s release fuelled claims that the self-styled “Lolita got lost in the hood” was a manufactured puppet. Whatever the truth, her distinctive Hipstamatic pop proved irresistible with Born To Die becoming last year’s fifth best-selling album, despite minimal touring.

So screams as the house lights fade are understandable and they punctuate much of tonight’s set, notably whenever Del Rey, dressed as a flirty bobby-soxer, makes a rare wiggle, drops an expletive or adds showbiz enunciation to “I’m nothing without you”, bringing fans into her strange world of Hollywood glamour and sleazy romance.

Having the platinum-seller play a venue she could fill several times over cannily shows how far this New Yorker has come. Her performance may lack sufficient brio to reach the back of an arena, but captivates anyone within range. Occasional girly giggles undermine the femme fatale imagery bolstered by her cinematic tunes and washed out video footage. That sense of control and enjoying the moment cuts through Born To Die’s relentless rhapsodising  on emotional damage, from the bad-boy chic of "Blue Jeans" to the melodrama of "Dark Paradise". For the former, Del Rey shifts easily from her trademark husky purr to a plaintive higher register.

Relying on the deluxe edition of her one Del Rey album leads to several less compelling moments, though even the unremarkable "Without You" is saved by strident plucking from a string quartet brought to the fore. The only new song, "Young And Beautiful" – a highlight of The Great Gatsby soundtrack – builds from dreamy seduction to breathless excitement. Del Rey brings little novelty to classic torch song "Blue Velvet", better adding her sultry death wish to a snatch of "Knocking On Heaven’s Door" – possibly a sly reference to another master of reinvention. Such knowingness goes out of the window on an extended "National Anthem".

Once Del Rey finishes her sultry rap she spends 10 minutes glad-handing the front row, posing for snaps and enjoying an intimacy you imagine she will miss on future tours.