Make us your home page

Review: Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence' is lush but lethal

Lana Del Rey’s new album is poised to debut at No. 1 on Billboard. 

New York Times

Lana Del Rey’s new album is poised to debut at No. 1 on Billboard. 

Lana Del Rey is something of a pop onomatopoeia. Her voice, like her Hollywood-circa-1939 name and persona, is lush, languid, a seductive instrument that makes the singer sound as if she couldn't be bothered to move from the fainting couch. In another time, another medium, the 28-year-old would have given hardboiled P.I. Philip Marlowe even more reasons to drink.

Del Rey (real name: Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, a native not of Los Angeles but New York City) released a new album this week, Ultraviolence, in which she adds even more red-lipstick edge to her femme fatale image. The LP follows the surge of two singles: No. 1 hit Summertime Sadness, which Miley Cyrus covered in concert, the latter only hoping to gain some of LDR's smoky mystique; and a fantastic re-do of Disney classic Once Upon a Dream, the once-chirpy Sleeping Beauty theme made malevolent for Maleficent. The latter is far scarier than anything heard in the Haunted Mansion; it's her crowning achievement.

Del Rey follows few rules, and why should she? Her voice can drop so low and slow, she often sounds like she's Tibetan throat singing. Ultraviolence has neither the dance-floor sugar of Summertime Sadness, nor does it include Once Upon a Dream. It doesn't even have a true single. Instead, with the production help of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, she strives for a fever dream, La La Land through the eyes of David Lynch. Her voice is lovely, her music gauzy, but her lyrics are often jarring, routinely slapped with an "explicit" tag on iTunes (see 2012 song Cola, which I can't even begin to write about in a family newspaper).

From the sound of it, including Ultraviolence's opener, Cruel World, and then the taboo title cut ("He used to call me D.N./ That stood for Deadly Nightshade"), Del Rey has never had a relationship that didn't resemble Bonnie and Clyde's. Her men are hot and hot-headed; she is, too. And things can get bloody, brutal. She's gorgeous but lethal, a romantic with a pearl-handled pistol. Auerbach digs the neo-noir vibe, layering jangling guitars on top of buzzing keyboards; the album sounds as of it were recorded in black and white.

If you're thinking of noise-pop progenitors the Velvet Underground, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star, you're right on target. This is ridiculously sexy stuff. But if there's a drawback, it's that the effect is so somnambulant, it can blur together, hot mood music, sultry background buzz. Auerbach throws some variation in there now and then: He adds effective guitar plucks and a big drum to standout track Brooklyn Baby. The most radio-ready song can't even be played on the radio: [Bleeped] My Way Up to the Top, co-written by Del Rey (as is most of the album), has a hypnotic beat and a "Go, baby, go" hook. Just don't let your mom hear it.

Billboard says Ultraviolence is poised to debut at No. 1 when sales figures come out. That probably won't quell the haters who say Del Rey is all about artifice and make-believe, that she plays a part and too often glorifies bad dudes. Nevertheless, the reason Del Rey is popular is because she, like Amy Winehouse before her, is so different from her pop peers. It may be fake, but it sure sounds fresh.

Sean Daly can be reached at Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Review: Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence' is lush but lethal 06/25/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 4:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Behind the lens: To capture an exhilarating moment, it's better to be lucky AND good


    Editor's note: Boyzell Hosey, our Assistant Managing Editor - Photography/Multimedia, shot this image while on a family vacation in Alaska. Below is his description of the shot.

  2. Looking Back: The Ybor City Streetcar gets a new life (Dec. 27, 1991)


    Before World War II Tampa's public transportation needs were covered by a network of Birney streetcars, with a peak of 24 million passengers in 1926. When a local streetcar enthusiast came across a 1920's model, she contacted the Tampa Trolley Society with an eye towards restoration. That streetcar would become the part …

  3. It's possible to do Tampa Bay Comic Con on a budget. Here's how.


    One of the best parts about being a geek is going to conventions. Huge halls packed with cosplayers, celebrities, comic books, collectibles and a community of like-minded weirdos. It's paradise.

    Luis Romero of Tampa has five Spider-Man suits and has made 25 different covers and inside panels out of $3 presentation boards. 
“I spent three years of research trying to find the perfect red and blue classic Spider-Man suit,” the 37-year-old said.
  4. From 'Boot' to 'Jacket' - Top 5 war movies of the '80s


    The media is going nuts over Dunkirk these days, and rightfully so if the reviews are on target. In my family, going to a war movie was a rite of passage passed on from father to son. …

  5. Let's turn our love around for this forgotten '80s supergroup


    We love '80s supergroups that flew under the radar on Lost and Found and today we have one that was so far under the radar its almost embarrassing for music lovers. So today let's show some love for Keats and their video for Turn Your Love Around.