Make us your home page
Instagram

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 sdaly@tampabay.com. 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

Loading...
  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 24

    Events

    Zac Brown Band: The country, folk and Southern rockers embark on the "Welcome Home" tour in support of the album. 7 p.m., MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the Florida State Fairgrounds, 4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa. $27.50-$77.50. (813) 740-2446.

    Handout photo of the Zac Brown Band, performing at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on 9/24/17. Credit: Shore Fire Media
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 23

    Events

    Smithsonian Museum Day Live: Museums across the nation partner with the Smithsonian to offer free admission for one day. Among them are Florida Holocaust Museum, Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs.Cracker Country in Tampa, Ringling Museum of Art. Note: Dalí Museum is free for Pinellas County …

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  3. Tampa Repertory's 'Flying' soars in some places, sputters in others

    Stage

    TAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre has always insisted on putting on plays that mean something. Several shows over the last couple of years have zeroed in on the social and cultural baggage that comes with being female (The Children's Hour, Silent Sky and Grounded come to mind). None of those …

    The Southeastern premiere of Flying, Sheila Cowley's play at Tampa Repertory Theatre about veterans of the Women's Air Force Service Pilots, includes (from left) Holly Marie Weber, Rosemary Orlando, and Becca McCoy. Photo by Megan Lamasney.
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]