Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lana Del Rey delivers lethargic mid-tempo numbers on Ultraviolence

Illustration for article titled Lana Del Rey delivers lethargic mid-tempo numbers on Ultraviolence

At the very least, Lana Del Rey’s debut record, Born To Die, had singles. Despite the chaotic mess of influences and halfhearted neo-noir aesthetic, the album boasted a handful of tunes that deftly explored the line between indie authenticity and mainstream pop gold. Songs like “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” showed Del Rey had an ear for sad-sack melodies that perfectly complemented the malaise of its lyrical explorations of lust, self-pity, and regret. Her latest record, Ultraviolence, shows no such promise and instead presents a bland, repetitive sonic palette and sleepy mid-tempo torch songs.

If there’s one song on Ultraviolence that gets the formula of Lana Del Rey right, it’s “West Coast,” where she navigates the woozy Dan Auerbach production by effortlessly switching between a half-mumbled baritone and a layered choral harmony. There’s an ease to her vocal delivery on the track that feels stilted on just about every other cut; on “West Coast” she’s at home among the descending blues riffs and spaghetti neo-noir motif. It’s the only track that accomplishes such a feat, though, as the rest of the album relies on production tricks that fail to capture the essence of distanced affectation Del Rey thrives on.

There’s barely a track on Ultraviolence that doesn’t boast the go-to arrangement of twangy, Ennio Morricone-inspired guitars and heavy doses of reverb, especially on Del Rey’s vocals. When the reverb-laden vocals rise up during the chorus of “Money Power Glory,” making it sound like there are eight Lana Del Reys swaying gently while staring into the middle distance of the recording studio, the effect should act as a release from the more monotone verses, but because such effects are applied heavily throughout every single song, the result is another tired attempt at emotional catharsis.

The ultimate downfall of Ultraviolence, though, is that it fails to craft its own identity or forge its own creative vision. It feels like a pastiche of ’50s Hollywood glamour and a postmodern vision of sex and romance. Del Rey doesn’t have the vocal chops to carry such thematic and aesthetic visions, and therefore each track feels like an overwrought attempt at some vague notion of coolness. “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” should be a more biting look at gendered language than it is; “Shades Of Cool” is a lackluster Bond-theme knockoff; “Ultraviolence” cops its most memorable line from a song by The Crystals, yet fails to acknowledge any of the cultural or political significance of the original. Once again, it’s pastiche, and uninspired pastiche at that. On Born To Die, Del Rey had a smattering of solid hooks at her disposal resulting in a few gems. Ultraviolence moves away from more pop-friendly territory and instead languishes in a sleepy, sad aesthetic.