Friday, March 23, 2012

23rd March - Celebrity Q&A


Why are you most proud of being a Pakistani? And what is your favourite thing about Pakistan?

Nausher Javed (Inteha): I am very proud of being a Pakistani. Despite all of the external pressures forced on us by different countries just for nothing, we are still able to survive and we lead from the front, whether it is war against terrorism, global recessions, sports, or media. The talent we have, one cannot find anywhere else in the world. And my favourite thing about Pakistan is that it is one of the countries where we still believe in family values and relations.

Annie Khalid: What I like about Pakistan is that in this country we are first class citizens. Nobody looks down upon us. We are the kings of our castle. That’s also my favourite thing about the country.

Rabi Ahmed (Soch): I’m most proud of being a Pakistani because Pakistan is my identity. Despite the fact that, unfortunately, at this time we are notorious in the world and referred to as terrorists, when it comes to being talented, we are not behind. I must say we have many examples of talented people from Pakistan who make us proud, may it be education, art, sports or any other field; this talent factor is my most favourite thing about Pakistan. We, Pakistanis, are emotional people and very much connected to our traditional and cultural values, which makes us original and different! We (youth of Pakistan) just need to realise our potential, polish our skills, and then with the right and positive attitude, we can prove to the world that we are a proud nation of talented people! ‘Uth jawana, karde sawaray, tera mulk doobya wich andheray!

Faiza Mujahid: I just love Pakistan, not the people here. I am proud of my ancestors. Pakistan has given us so much but I am not sure if I should be proud of the people who are living in it. And that includes me. We have a lot to give back to this country yet so that we can be proud of ourselves. That would make us proud Pakistanis.

- By S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 23rd March, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Cranberries rock on

album review

The Irish foursome return to the spotlight with Roses

Album: Roses
Band: The Cranberries

If you had access to an international music channel in the ‘90s, then you couldn’t possibly have escaped the tunes of one of Ireland’s most successful musical exports: The Cranberries. Formed in 1989, the group gained international recognition following the release of their debut album, Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? (1993). The foursome from Limerick found a place on the global airwaves with their lilted pop rock and celtic vibes. They released singles ranging from mellow dream pop to alternative rock anthems, which ensured that the band remained a chart staple throughout the decade. The group had a sound unmistakeably its own, and the vocal stylings of singer and songwriter Dolores O’Riordan made her one of the most distinctive front women of the era.

But five studio albums later, the group decided to take a hiatus; 2003 saw The Cranberries parting ways to pursue other projects. O’Riordan’s solo career produced two middling albums; the other members also tried their hands at different musical projects, but none came even marginally close to the levels of success of the band that made them famous. Then in 2009, the mandatory reunion inevitably followed, and the group soon returned to the studio to work on their comeback album.

Their efforts have now resulted in their sixth record, Roses, which comes more than ten years after its predecessor, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (2001), and even a decade later, The Cranberries’ sound is still as distinctive as ever. Rejoining forces with producer Stephen Street, who collaborated with the band on three of their previous albums, the band picks up exactly where they left off. The new record shows that The Cranberries have retained their ability to come up with pretty melodies and haven’t lost their tendency to take a word or phrase and then repeat it over and over again. What seems to be missing, though, is both the passion and the immediacy of their earlier work.

Opting to go down the well travelled road of smooth pop with a Gaelic twist, the band has put together eleven songs that mostly try to replicate the dream pop sound they were initially known for and rarely venture into the harder, more intense alt rock territory. Many of the songs, including ‘Waiting in Walthamstow’, ‘So Good’, and title track ‘Roses’, are understated and sparse. While most of the melodies on the album are sufficiently pleasant - the opening track ‘Conduct’ offers perhaps the best tune of the set, while ‘Schizophrenic Playboy’ is the only song that shows any signs of urgency - the album lacks the power and conviction of some of their previous work, and none of the tunes are different or special enough to actually stand out and demand immediate attention from the listener.

Most of the tracks take a few listens to make an impact. At best, the songs are well constructed and the melodies are sublime; at worst, the efforts are not so much ethereal as snooze inducing. Lyrically, the album mostly focuses on standard musings on life and relationships. Dolores O’Riordan’s vocals are still strong and distinct, and the orchestration provides a lush soundscape for her voice. Yet there is simply nothing here that is nearly as memorable as ‘Linger’ or ‘Zombie’. The album’s biggest flaw seems to be its complacency. The Cranberries have made no effort to develop their sound and seem to be sleepwalking through their standard musical template, churning out methodical composites of their previous material, which makes the end result tired and predictable. And there is no indication anywhere that this album was made because the group had something new or interesting to offer.

On the whole, Roses sees the return of a mellower version of the band and the sound is still distinctive, but the album lacks ambition and doesn’t display any progression or attempts to do something different. The Cranberries can still make nice melodies but they seem to be stuck in the past, unwilling (or perhaps unable) to update their signature sound and make it more interesting or current. It all sounds familiar, and while it does evoke a sense of nostalgia, it simply lacks the strength to be enduring. If you haven’t heard of The Cranberries before, then Roses probably won’t be the best introduction to their music; you’d be better served listening to one of their earlier albums or a singles/hits compilation (like Stars: The Best of 1992-2002) instead. Those who are already familiar with the group, and preferred the more mellow pop moments of their previous records over their more biting songs, might find the band’s new offering appealing; if you are looking for a sharp and fiery rock oriented record, however, then you might want to give this album a pass.

Highlights:Conduct’, ‘Tomorrow’, ‘Schizophrenic Playboy

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 18th March, 2012

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The King of Trance - Armin van Buuren


Tête-à-tête with one of the world’s most popular DJs

Dutch trance producer and DJ Armin van Buuren is one of the biggest names in music. Not only is he renowned for his tracks and collaborations (having worked with the likes of Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Ferry Corsten, and Adam Young), but between hosting the weekly radio show A State of Trance and running Armada Music, the record label that he co-founded, he has cemented his position as a force on the sonic landscape, and his influence can be felt globally. Ink was lucky enough to get a chance to chat with the trance maestro and ask him about his work.

Ink: You were voted the world’s most popular DJ (in DJ Magazine), not once but four times in a row (from 2007 to 2010). Does that put a lot of pressure on you as an artist?
Armin van Buuren:
Yes, people do have higher expectations. All of a sudden I had people that came to my gigs not for Armin van Buuren but for the number one DJ in the world. I figured I had to stick to my roots and just do what I always do. I never want to abandon the fans that have supported me from day one. But being the most popular DJ also offers a lot of opportunities.

Ink: How important is this achievement, and all the awards you have received, for you?
It’s a great feeling knowing so many people like what you do. The fact that so many people take a minute of their lives to support what you do is just an incredible thing. I don’t live for awards like an athlete or something. I make trance music because I have believed in it since 1996 when it wasn’t so popular. But of course it does give a great feeling.

Ink: How and when did your passion for dance music really begin? What inspired you to become a DJ?
When I was around 15/16, I was in school and all my friends were listening to the early dance music, then just called “house”. I was at the critical age where you try to find your own identity. All my friends were buying records so naturally I did the same. We were making mixtapes for each other. I started making records soon after I became 16 years old. My big inspiration back in those days was Dutch master-mixer Ben Liebrand.

Ink: A State of Trance has become a global success. What, in your opinion, gives it such worldwide appeal?
It’s hard to say but I’m very proud of it, of course. I guess the fact that it has been around for so long has helped. I was one of the first to do a two hour weekly radio show. Many of the DJs that said I was completely crazy to do that every week now have their own shows. Also, I think people really appreciate the fact that I try to bring them all the best and latest in trance every week. If you listen to A State of Trance you’ll hear at least 75% of the records that matter in the charts and on global trancefloors.

Ink: What do you feel has been your biggest achievement so far?
I think the Armin Only Mirage tour. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done. 11 cities in one year with 11 sold out shows for 175,000 people. Each event had a nine hour Armin van Buuren set with dancers, lights, lasers, movable LED walls, singers and even a whole rock band and orchestra.

Ink: You have worked with some well known musicians over the years. What has your favourite collaboration been so far (both in terms of the artist you worked with and the music you created)?
It’s very difficult to say. All my tracks are like my babies, especially the ones on my last albums. If I had to choose one I would say In and Out of Love with Sharon because of the success on YouTube.

Ink: Is there any other artist you’d like to work with in the future?
Enya, Björk, Depeche Mode, Brian Eno, Steve Hillage, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol…I have a long list actually.

Ink: Between DJing, production, a radio show, and your record label, does the workload ever become too much to keep up with?
It’s a lot of hard work, especially since I became a father this year of a beautiful daughter named Fenna. But I’m very fortunate to have a great team of people around me who help me almost 24/7. I still select, mix, and present my own radio show, but someone else downloads the tracks, for example. This saves me a lot of time. And I tour with a tour manager now who makes sure everything is properly organized.

Ink: Any message for your South Asian fans?
Yes! I know there are many people who expect my return and you have to trust me I will be back as soon as I can. In the meantime, please keep listening to A State of Trance, and thanks for your support!!

- Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar, 2012

Friday, March 09, 2012

“Fame and money comes with time but success comes with hard work” - a chat with Junaid Khan

cover story

You all know him as a singer; now meet Junaid Khan, the actor! The musician-turned-actor tells Us about his foray into the world of acting, the various small screen projects that he has been involved in, and what he has in store for his fans in the coming months:

Us: How did you discover your acting talents? And what inspired you to take up acting professionally?
Junaid Khan:
Well, as kids we all imitate our favourite cartoon characters and that is how we all start as actors in our own domain, that is our house or amongst our circle of friends. Realising this, a few years before I took up music, I did a few theatre plays at university level which were slightly appreciated, and thus gave me more confidence to take up performing arts seriously. But soon I took up music and got really into it, and also studying and working at the same time didn’t give me much room to spare a bit of my time even on thinking of taking up acting. But now that I’ve taken up entertainment as a full time profession, I did have time to pursue acting as a career. Plus I am a huge cinema fan. I love going to the cinema and watching the latest screenings. I guess that inspired me at some level to take up acting.

Us: Please tell Us about the acting projects you have done so far.
Well I have done quite a few projects. I did two plays for Faisal Qureshi’s productions which were directed by Jawad Bashir. These were aired in the past two years. Recently, I have been occupied with Momal Productions and have done three projects with them till date. One is on air by the name Mujhey Roothney Na Dena directed by Aabis Raza. Second one, Mata-e-Jaan, will be aired in February this year which is directed by Mehreen Jabbar. And the most recent one, Madiha Aur Maliha, is being shot and will be aired in March.

Us: Did you face any difficulties when you first started acting?
Yeah, of course. There is some theory behind acting as well which you get to learn when you go through the actual experience. Luckily, I have been blessed with great directors who guided me through each and every shot and pointed out if I was doing anything wrong and appreciated me after a good shot. Though, I have shot various music videos and had faced the camera numerous times before, acting for a play was altogether a different experience. I remember I used to forget lines initially during my first play, but soon got over that.

Us: You are currently appearing in the television drama Mujhey Roothney Na Dena (MRND). Please tell us about the series and the character you portray in it.
Yeah. MRND comes under the category of a soap. A soap is usually more dramatic and has various characters and stories interlinked with each other. It was a great learning experience for me. Aabis, the director, helped me a great deal in understanding the philosophy behind the soap category and also about the character ‘Shehroz’ that I am playing. Shehroz is a very mature guy who is quite composed and calm in nature and also who is quite close to his friend Saqib. He really feels for him and ends up going through a lot of drama in his life due to his friendship. The storyline is slightly bold but still highlights those situations which aren’t too strange for us. One way or the other we do go through all those factors which are highlighted in this play.

Us: How has the response to your acting been so far?
I am blessed that the response has been really appreciative for me, so far. People liked my character and also related to him, and felt for him. When the audience links to the character, then I guess the actor has done his job. My upcoming play is Mata-e-Jaan in which I am playing a negative character; really excited to see how that comes out as I believe negative roles have more margin of acting.

Us: How do you define success?
Junaid: I think for an artist, if he is able to convey his message through his medium, be it acting, music, painting, etcetera, then he has reached success. Fame and money comes with time but success comes with hard work.

Us: How do you choose your acting projects? What are the factors that made you choose your current projects?
There are a few factors that I keep in mind, and if they click then I sign the project:
a. The production house: what projects they have done before.
b. The director: the projects he has done before.
c. The character: if the character is appealing and challenging.

Us: What do you look for in a role? What kinds of characters attract you to a project? And is there any kind of character that you would choose not to play?
I am a continuous learner and I am always looking for challenges as they help me learn more and more. Same is the case with acting. I try to look for challenging roles that have the margin to display my skills and also help me grow as an actor. If the character is interesting then I can overlook some other factors while signing a play. Just like in Mata-e-Jaan, when I was being explained the role, I was told that it would be a negative character; I straight away took it as I always found bad guys quite appealing and wanted to see how I would do as a bad guy, and if people started hating me after that, I will know that I have successfully pulled off my character.

Us: What do you think about the current state of the Pakistani i) television industry, and ii) film industry?
Thank God that the television industry has shifted the viewers’ focus from all those crappy news channels to entertainment. Salute to the television industry for doing an excellent job. Television is growing faster and is taking over all forms of entertainment these days.
As for our film industry, it is going to have a totally new structure now. The directors who have done commercials and dramas are now realising that film is the eventual medium which the viewer is going to, so now our new lot of talented directors are focusing on making feature films. It’s just a matter of a year or two and soon our viewer will be seeing what our film industry should have been since the beginning.

Us: Do you have any Bollywood aspirations?
Well, film is every artist’s eventual goal. Currently, Bollywood and Hollywood are the actual film makers so yes that is an aspiration.

Us: If you could have been in any film ever made, which one would it be? And which character would you have liked to portray?
Well, I am a huge action fan. If I ever had the choice, I would have played John Travolta’s character in Face/Off or Tom Cruise’s role in MI2.

Us: You are also working on your first solo album. How is that coming along? Can you tell Us about any of the songs you have worked on so far? How soon will it be released?
Yeah, I am working on quite a few tracks. I am really excited about the album as the songs are quite close to me. I have written and composed most of them. Well, there is one track - ‘So Close So Distant’ - that recently got released on this Valentine’s Day. It is a rock ballad in collaboration with an international female artist, Jennifer Jandris. Do visit for the video of the song.

Us: Are there any other projects in the pipeline that your fans can look forward to in the coming months?
Yeah, there are loads of things happening in terms of acting and music. A few interesting projects on the music front that I am really excited about. Will keep you guys posted as soon as I am about to release them.

Us: Any message for the readers?
Well, just live and let live and enjoy the blessings of life that have been given to you by God. Don’t let stress ruin it for you and cherish each and every happy moment that you come across.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 9th March, 2012

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

“So far we had been talking about reaching out for the stars; this time we want to go beyond the stars!” – Ali Noor


Noori discuss their comeback song, working on new material, and their plans to release the “very first live-concert CD to come out of Pakistan”

They won our hearts with ‘Manwa Re’, released two successful albums, and then parted ways with two of their members before taking an extended hiatus. Last year saw Ali Noor, Ali Hamza, Muhammad Ali Jafri, and Gumby reunite to continue their musical journey, and now Noori is back with a new single to celebrate their return.

A new tune

A positively-charged anthem, ‘Taaron Se Agay’ is a three and a half minute burst of high energy, full of hope and inspiration. “Lyrically, the title of the song somehow set the perfect stage for what is to come in the future,” says Ali Noor. “So far we had been talking about reaching out for the stars; this time we want to go beyond the stars!”

The track isn’t, however, an entirely new effort, and was actually conceived over a decade ago. “The song was originally composed by Ali Noor almost 12 years ago,” explains Ali Hamza. “It was lying in the collection of over 50 demos the band has piled up over the years. Post reunion, when the demo closet was opened, we decided we should go back to the roots; that is, put out something that reminds of where we started out from.”

“But we couldn’t also discount our evolution as musicians over the last eight years,” adds Ali Noor. “When I made Gumby hear the demo [again], he wanted to totally revamp the entire song.” Gumby thought the sound needed an upgrade. “The demo sounded quite monotonous,” says the drummer. “It was pretty good for its time, but we are in a very different musical era now. I wanted to break down the verses and pre-chorus into distinct rhythmic sections. We experimented, and after a number of jams we locked upon some very interesting parts. Even in the chorus, the desi beat was always there, but we added a lot more punch so it sounds contemporary.”

The musicians were understandably enthusiastic about the release of their comeback single. “When the song aired for the first time, while Noor and Gumby were at a radio station publicly sharing their excitement on air, I was desperately tweeting away almost every 10 odd minutes asking people to tune in, talking about the interview,” recalls Hamza. “Noor was putting out some really emotional tweets during the show. Right after the show, Gumby called me to find out about the responses we were getting online. The point is, our excitement was almost the same as (if not more than) what it was when, say, ‘Gana No.1’ was aired for the first time.” And Noori’s loyal fan following shared their fervour. “Our fans, who have been very supportive and patient with us were equally excited, and their feedback was awesome! So that further added to our ecstasy.”

A happy reunion

The group say they are now getting excited about their future work, and that this time the group dynamic is different. “Previously, I had been running the show single-handedly,” says Noor. “This time we are all participating equally. Everyone is putting in the same effort. That was the reason why I wanted to start a band. I could have easily gone the solo route, but to work as a team was always a greater aspiration for me. Finally, that dream is coming true”.

The band, explains Hamza, has learned from their past experiences and are now working towards building a lasting working relationship. “We are looking at the bigger picture now and we are developing a common vision which we can share and sustain for a long time to come. That’s the lesson we learnt from the past and from around us. It’s not easy to sustain a band/team for a long time unless there is a genuine sharing of vision and pooling of skills and resources. This common ground cannot be reached at overnight. It takes a lot of time, open communication, and brain-storming; being patient with brewing tensions; and having faith in each other. We are focused on nurturing a team on these principles. And thankfully, this time we all share this vision of team building.”

Gumby will have a lot on his hands with both Noori and Uth Records, but he assures us that it shouldn’t be an issue. “By nature I am very organized,” he says, “and streamlining the workflow of both projects has been quite a task. However, when working with a solid team, it makes it possible for me to execute both quite smoothly.” The band has also pointed out that Muhammad Ali Jafri is not available as part of Noori right now as he is dealing with very important domestic issues, and they cannot say anything about his return at the moment.

New material

Noori’s upcoming music will come out through their own record label, BIY Records, which will, for now, focus on releasing only their content. The band promises they have a lot in store for us, including the possibility of a new album, which won’t necessarily be a third chapter in the trilogy that started with Suno Ke Main Hun Jawan (2003) and Peeli Patti Aur Raja Jani Ki Gol Dunya (2005). “The trilogy of albums is an idea that was mine and mine alone,” says Noor. “As I said earlier, this is a fresh start for us. We are open to a number of ideas now; we haven’t set anything in stone this time. New opportunities come up every other day and we are allowing for a lot of flexibility this time. We are regularly recording content now, and streamlining our production process.” In fact, the group has already produced an album worth of material. “We have already completed a good 10 songs. We were planning to put them out as an album, but now we are totally reconsidering that idea. These songs are quite diverse and actually define a whole spread of sounds which Noori will offer in time to come. Secondly, each song is standing out as a single in its own right. Sometimes we wonder if we put all of this out in one compilation, we might lose out on the charm each song has to offer. So we have decided to experiment a little before we go ahead with an album plan (if any).”


According to Ali Noor, the first such experiment is planned around the release of ‘Taaron Se Agay’ itself. “We are self-producing an entire concert on the 25th of February. We are recording this concert on a full-fledged professional scale and will then release the very first live-concert CD to come out of Pakistan. This will be the first of a number of Noori/BIY releases for the coming year.”

Joining the band’s live setup will be Faraz Anwar (Mizraab) on guitars and Zeeshan Parwez (Sajid & Zeeshan, Coke Studio) on synths/loops and visuals. “Live performances have been our key selling point,” says Gumby, “and now we are really taking them to the next level. We have got two of the most respected musicians on board for our live set up. We are just about to start rehearsing and are super excited about future gigs. In coming times, Noori plans on giving full fledged audio visual performances – something that we get to see in international DVDs.”

Noori also performed in India recently. “The performance was a private event arranged by the owners of DLF, one of the biggest real estate enterprises in India,” recalls Gumby. “These guys are probably one of the richest people in the world, but equally down to earth. We had a great time, enjoyed amazing hospitality, met some very, very interesting people, made new friends and some very good contacts for future work as well. As far as the performance is concerned, each one of us rocked at the event. We performed separately as well as together, and not for a moment could we sense our audience getting bored or distracted from our performances.”

The musicians say they take the responsibility of representing Pakistan seriously, and would “like to fulfil it with sincerity”. Hamza explains, “Pakistanis are producing the best fusion music that South Asia has to offer. Coke Studio is a global rave, and has given Pakistan a unique sound to share with the world. The invites to this event also were titled as ‘performance of Coke Studio artists from Pakistan’. No doubt Pakistani music is ruling the South Asian music scene, and it does make us feel very, very special – especially in contrast to all the crap our politicians are showcasing to the world!”

“The performance in India and the response we had has motivated us to work on a brand new fusion based project – to create a very specialised live performance which we can take around the world,” reveals Ali Noor. “Some major promoters in India have already shown interest in such a tour and we’re immediately getting on the drawing board to start creating this production.” With so many plans for the coming months, the future looks promising for Noori, and we look forward to what the band has in store for us.

- Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 6th March, 2012

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Lana Del Rey arrives with Born to Die

album review

Instep lends an ear to the controversial pop star’s debut album

Album: Born to Die
Artist: Lana Del Rey

Few indie artists have had as promising a start to their careers as Lana Del Rey, the stage persona of 25-year-old American singer Elizabeth Grant, who became an almost instant (albeit divisive) pop sensation brandishing considerable online popularity following the release of her stunning single ‘Video Games’ last year.

Few breakout artists, however, have made a worse introduction to the mainstream audience than Miss Grant. A chance to perform two of her songs on Saturday Night Live, even before she had an album out, turned into a debacle, when her uneven performance was derided by both critics and the general audience. A few minutes of nervous singing, and the singer had gained international recognition for all the wrong reasons; the charm of Lana Del Rey was lost, and sneers about her privileged background, enhanced looks, anti-feminist lyrics, and lack of authenticity had picked up steam; the Internet, as Lizzy Grant learned the hard way, can be a very unforgiving place.

She was first overhyped and then disparaged, all within a span of months. So even before releasing a proper album, the singer managed to split the music listening community into segments: those who were impressed by her singles and now intent on defending every note that came out of her mouth; those who couldn’t stop bickering about her being a manufactured product whose career was contrived and had been handed to her; and those who were sick of both the propaganda bombardments and the blogosphere backlash and would just like to go about their lives without having to hear about the singer ten times a day.

Now that her major label debut (her second album overall - a 2010 set released on an independent label was withdrawn from circulation two months after it came out) has finally hit the shelves, it is hard to set aside these preformed perceptions and listen to the record with a neutral, unbiased ear. If you do try, though, you will find that Born to Die is neither as bad as her SNL performance would have you believe, nor is it a masterpiece that will blow you away with its sheer ingenuity.

The self-proclaimed “gangster Nancy Sinatra” has come up with a set of 12 tracks that is just as cheery as its title suggests. Embracing a retro vibe to match her old Hollywood glamour persona, the singer, who has co-written each of the songs, doles out moody tunes polished with glossy trip-hop production. On songs like her breakthrough single ‘Video Games’, the atmospheric arrangements are powered by lush orchestration and put her velvety vocals to good use. And whether she’s delivering broken heart ballads like ‘Blue Jeans’ and the title track ‘Born to Die’ or rap-talking on ‘Off to the Races’ and ‘National Anthem’, the songstress never breaks character. Nothing quite matches the finery of ‘Video Games’ though, which remains the highlight of the album.

Over the 50 minute length of the record, however, this character can start to get a little tiring. Her languorous delivery starts to tread the line between stylishly aloof and unengagingly listless. And when she isn’t musing about wealth and fame, her inability to move beyond the submissive lover territory (“You’re no good for me, but baby I want you” she sings in ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, a sentiment that appears in many variations and shades throughout the album) makes the content repetitive and, at times, vapid; Del Rey needs to refine her skills as a songwriter and, whether she wants to play a sultry vixen or a subservient lover pining for a bad boy, she needs to learn how much more she can say using subtlety. Also, even though her stylistic incline makes her sound distinctive, there are moments on the album that show there isn’t much separating her from other mainstream pop stars; for instance, ‘Off to the Races’ isn’t far from venturing into Ke$ha territory, and ‘Dark Paradise’ is a standard pop song that could fit on, say, a Katy Perry album.

Overall, Lana Del Rey’s debut disc doesn’t give us a reason to either celebrate the songstress as a saviour of pop music or dismiss her as a complete failure. Born to Die is a processed and packaged pop record that, just like any other record, is not for everyone. It is a coherent set that chooses to go down the lane of murky balladry with the aim of showcasing Lana Del Rey’s smoky voice, but is held back by repetitive content and dull song writing, and at times by her inability to engage the listener. To give it a fair chance, you have to set aside whatever you think of Lana Del Rey or her pout. She may have jumped into the deep end of the music industry before she was ready, but it’s time to stop over-analyzing everything she does and simply see her as another pop musician; one can only hope that Born to Die will finally take the spotlight off her background and looks, and bring the focus back to her abilities and flaws as a singer and songwriter.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 4th March, 2012