Lana Del Rey authenticates her niche as a retro-pop act on her latest LP, “Ultraviolence,” with stronger yet less-catchy songs than on her debut studio album under the moniker Del Rey, “Born to Die.” She has traded in hip-hop sampling for a new team of producers, including the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. His rootsy blues rock meshes well with her Old Hollywood dramaticism, especially on “Shades of Cool,” where the intricate back-and-forth between her soaring vocals and trademark wailing vibrato creates a ghostly atmosphere. The sedation of the song’s low tempo slowly burns up into Auerbach’s face-melter of a guitar solo that strikes through Del Rey’s swirling mumbles. This shade of blues is definitely cool.
The title track juxtaposes the loaded term “Ultraviolence” — which has connotations of a certain fictional rapist and murderer named Alex DeLarge — with the sleepy, sentimental tone of the song. Like most of these songs, it’s an elegiac afterthought, rather than an enactment of ultraviolence. But it’s befitting that Del Rey croons, “He hit me, and it felt like a kiss,” referencing the 1962 Crystals single. She’s amassed a collection of cliches curated from oldies classics to adorn the construction of her bad-girl-meets-bad-boy aesthetic.
But her references don’t stop at 1950s and ‘60s music — she directs them at herself in “Brooklyn Baby” and “Fucked My Way Up To The Top.” She shoots down claims of her inauthenticity — a tired argument at this point in music history’s countless transmutations — in the former with a lyrical parody of hipsterdom, complete with not-so-humble brags about her rare jazz collection, feathers in her hair and down-ness for beat poetry. She further blurs this line between authenticity and inauthenticity in the theatricality of her New York accent — she’s “toiking,” not talking, about this generation while turning her hometown roots into a facet of her caricature.
Although the album starts strong, the consistency of its sound eventually grows tedious in the haze of balladry. Del Rey’s dedication to the development of her persona avoids coming off as completely one-note. But she could add a few more notes into the mix.
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