** (out of 4)
Lana Del Rey’s sophomore album “Ultraviolence” should have been released containing a Buzzfeed-style quiz called, “11 reasons you totally would have been cool in the ‘60s.”
The record is superficial, detached nostalgia, served like a “what REAL music sounds like” manifesto written by that annoying kid in high school who always claimed to have been born in the wrong decade. “Sad Girl” and “Cruel World” are sleek love letters to the sort of woman romanticized in songs from a long-gone era, but Del Rey should exercise caution when evoking the supposed good ol’ days. People who weren’t around back then might think these were just simple laments about sad girls and idealize the women in them. If we’re going to replicate old-school songs’ accounts of the pretty girl in the red dress headed to the party, we can’t ignore that a lot of times that same character was being beaten by a lover on the car ride over. Despite her album’s title, Del Rey seems to have little to say about how things have or haven’t changed.
Played by Miss Elizabeth Grant of Lake Placid, New York, Lana Del Rey is the modern incarnation of another era’s doomed, faceless character, finessed to perfection by acts like Nina Simone and Nancy Sinatra. Except Del Rey comes along during better days for female empowerment in pop music. Can you imagine Beyonce neatly fitting the title of the 1962 Crystals song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)” into a chorus like Del Rey does on her album’s title track? I can’t, and I don’t want to. Del Rey, who has had an ocean of hype and divided opinion since her debut “Born to Die” and terrible “SNL” performance, has made a name for herself by sticking to what worked many years ago, but why that’s a good thing remains to be seen.
Largely produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, “Ultraviolence” features gritty-yet-polished instrumentation that blends with Del Rey’s vintage voice. The result is a haunted Hollywood landscape that nods to James Bond theme songs and bluesy rock styling. “Brooklyn Baby” and “West Coast,” the record’s two (geographically opposite) gems, effectively deliver the vibe of the regions they represent. “West Coast” in particular sounds like a drag race through the Mojave desert as Del Rey effectively makes the song feel as hollowed out as the struggling youngsters trying to make it in the industry.
Recent press about “Ultraviolence” has focused on a recent Guardian interview in which the nearly 28-year-old singer (her birthday is Saturday) laments being famous and wishes that she would duplicate the fate of music icons like Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse who died young. You would hope that a pop star admitting that death doesn’t sound like a bad idea would be a red flag to her team to get her some help. The sad truth is that she got more ink for that than commentary on the monotonous and empty tunes contained within this album. With “Ultraviolence,” the story of Lana Del Rey continues to be far more interesting than the music itself.