It’s very difficult to take someone seriously when they make exclamations like, “I wish I was dead already” as Del Rey did in a recent interview with The Guardian. It smacks of a desperate cry for attention. In my youth, I had a friend who would always pull me to one side during parties at friend’s places to tell me he was depressed and suicidal. In fact, he did this to many people, to the extent his cloying attention seeking behaviour became a parody of itself. Essentially, no one took him seriously. He was the boy who cried wolf. Lana Del Rey is that friend. Every utterance out of her mouth seems to be carefully crafted and considered for maximum impact, drama and exposure. Lana Del Rey’s music has always had the same kind of effect and that has not changed one iota on her new record Ultraviolence. Her follow up to 2012’s Born To Die does however see her side step the hip hop trappings of that record for a more nostalgic, retro sound in no small part influenced by producer Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, the undisputed king of retro.
Despite the overly calculated nature of Lana Del Rey’s output, when everything clicks together, it is spectacular. First single “West Coast” possesses the kind of seductive, sultry guitar and vocal line combination that accentuates both Del Rey’s and Auerbach’s strengths. Plus, by slowing the BPM for the waltz like chorus, Del Rey shows a willingness to buck convention that is sadly undeveloped throughout the record. “Shades of Cool”, with its faux-Bond opening guitar line, would sincerely be the best Bond theme tune in decades if it in fact was one, possessing a sexiness and danger missing from the film franchise’s central tracks for decades.
Del Rey’s decision to ditch the modern, hip hop influenced sound of Born To Die is definitely welcomed. Her vocal talents are much more suited to this black and white setting of smoky bars, indiscriminate sex and femme fatales. However, her posturing still comes across as extremely contrived and a little on the nose. Surely there is a more subtle way to allude to the era she desires without having to be as obvious and deliberate as she is when she intones, “Well, my boyfriend’s in the band, he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed, I’ve got feathers in my hair, I get down to Beat poetry, and my jazz collection’s rare” on “Brooklyn Baby”. Perhaps she’s being sarcastic, but I doubt it. Elsewhere, tunes like “Ultraviolence”, in which Del Rey intones, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss”, and “Fucked My Way To The Top”, which is self explanatory, come off as somewhat disturbing and exceedingly misogynistic.
In combination with the never ending posturing, the main issue with the record is that while most tracks are memorable and quite seductive when taken in isolation, the album as a whole is marred by the melodramatic monotony that is created when the tracks are taken collectively. Something is needed to cut through the mope. Something with just a little momentum to drag the pace of the record above a club foot crawl. With Ultraviolence Del Rey takes a strong step in the right direction, but I guess she’s going to have to spend a bit more time on her back before she reaches the top.
Ultraviolence was released on June 13th via Polydor