Simon Price on Lana Del Rey: When she sings her dream of America, all you can do is swoon


There is more than one American dream. The first is the one America dreams about itself. The second is the one the world dreams about America. In this respect, Lana Del Rey – far more loved in Europe than at home in the States – is the ultimate dreamgirl, a pouting avatar of countless cinematic ideas of vintage Americana.

There are Amazon tribes who, when they heard that The Great Gatsby was to be re-filmed, said: "Ah, you'll be wanting Lana Del Rey on the soundtrack, then." And, ropey as the reviews have been for Baz Luhrmann's movie, Lana's tragic "Young and Beautiful" is impossible to fault.

Tonight she stakes her filmic credentials from the start. Before it, even, with a warm-up tape of classic movie scores and a stage bedecked with Hollywood gothic. Amid the marble lions and twitching palm fronds, with that miraculously sultry Karen-meets-Stevie tone, she seals the deal with an immaculate post-Lynchian cover of "Blue Velvet". But it's her own material – notably the Peggy Lee-like memoir "Ride" – that really sets the grainy Super 8 pictures reeling in your head.

And, of course, the clock-stopping, world-freezing beauty of "Video Games". The real America is rarely as poetic as that song makes it feel. After which, Lana's alternative "National Anthem" only proves that, when a dream is pitted against reality, the dream will always triumph.

The holy grail of the music industry, in these long-tail theory days, is the sleeper hit: a record that offers never-ending sales from nil marketing spend. Give Up, the debut and, so far, only album by The Postal Service (Brixton Academy, London ****), is the ultimate example. Released to minimal fanfare in 2003, it soon became, almost entirely by word of mouth, the second-biggest album in the Sub Pop label's history (beaten only by Nirvana's Bleach).

It feels vulgar to speak of The Postal Service in such crass commercial terms – this is an outfit whose appeal is the same pure-hearted romanticism that endeared The Lightning Seeds to an earlier generation. It's also a case of a side project that overtakes the day job. Leader Ben Gibbard's bread-and-butter is Death Cab for Cutie, a guitar band whose career has plodded on after this synthpop sojourn. Give Up, meanwhile, has become a sacred text for Pitchfork-reading types. The impossibility of matching Give Up (and I've listened to every Death Cab album since, just in case) is maybe why Gibbard has yet to release a follow-up.

Tonight, the words "This is a new song" cause whoops so enthusiastic that everyone bursts out laughing. "Turn Around" has a bodyshaking bassline and promises "This scene won't drag you underneath". More impressive is "Tattered Line of String", a Pet Shop Boyish reminiscence . Both tracks are on the deluxe reissue of Give Up. And it still sounds like a masterpiece.

Songs such as "The District Sleep Alone Tonight" and "We Will Be Silhouettes" are declarations of defiance from a man who refuses to accept the death of romance. The show climaxes with "Such Great Heights", the signature single covered by countless admirers. Whether The Postal Service ever reach such heights again hardly matters.

Critic's Choice

The soft-rock dinosaur double bill of Journey and Whitesnake stomps its way to the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff (tomorrow/Sunday); LG Arena, Birmingham (Tue) and Wembley Arena (Wed). Meanwhile, Muse take their no doubt understated and minimalist live show to the Emirates Stadium, London (tomorrow/Sunday) and Etihad Stadium, Manchester (Mon).