Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence
There are few pressures in life like following up the only Music Fix Album of The Year to date, so much so that Lana Del Rey went public and suggested Born To Die might be her last record. Given that she's fillled the intervening months with a fairly heavy schedule of new material, alongside all the leaked demos and offcuts, there seemed little chance of such a circumstance coming to pass. Still, expectations are high for the follow up, and with global sales in the multi-millions, there will be a few back room careers dependent on a repeat of that success.
That breakthrough album traded on an intoxicating blend of radio-friendly torch song sensibilities married with hip-hop production ticks: Angelo Badalamenti straight outta Compton. Ultraviolence - despite its Droogy, near future title - is an altogether more traditional effort, with producer Dan Auerbach stripping out much of the pop sheen, leaving the Hollywood textures and twanging guitars intact. The outcome is more adult, but downbeat (thematically and tempo-wise) and less contemporary - and a little less thrilling as a result.
Even so, there’s much here to admire. The dark pulse of lead track, 'West Coast’, with its beat-dropping chorus still messes with listener expectations after multiple plays. The hipster-baiting cute of ‘Brooklyn Baby’ ("I get high on hydroponic weed") introduces a little levity to the otherwise relentless 'party-girl on the wrong side of the tracks' that still forms her milieu. The planned Lou Reed cameo would simply have been the cocaine chaser.
Rey drops some of her best vocal performances; those nervous, early live shows are a distant memory as she effortlessly trills her way around the musical stave. 'Shades of Cool' might feature some unwelcome wailing guitar but there's a timeless, fragile film idol quality here that's absent from the over confident Glee and American Idol wannabes that hog primetime. (The quivering, slightly off-key 'Pretty When You Cry' seems more deliberate stylistic characterisation than genuine vocal weakness.)
By the time we hit the second half, there's more brass than gold. 'Sad Girl' is forgettable, and from there on in you can sit back and amuse yourself with a spot of 'LDR Bingo' ticking off Del Rey's lyrical obsessions with "Money, Power and Glory", and her cast of unsympathetic characters, splashing about poolside in waters that almost certainly need a refresh. 'Fucked My Way Up To The Top' is just a title, an empty shell of a song that just simpers lyrically, giving fuel to critics who say Rey has long exhausted her creative well. While Born To Die managed to juggle its love/hate relationship with 21st century notions of glamour and success, Ultraviolence offers neither vicarious thrills or satire, only unrelenting gloom. The standard edition of the album ends with a cover of 'The Other Woman', made famous by Nina Simone. It's a queer conclusion; although there's a filmic quality to much of the album, with its surprising saxophone backing this feels like it has wandered in from the soundtrack of another project entirely.
If Lana Del Rey was hoping to repeat her success in the polls come December, she's likely to be disappointed. Her fans are legion though, and Ultraviolence doesn't mess with the formula too much to alienate anyone who fell for her first time around. The lack of a couple of standout radio hits may be the only real criticism, but even so, a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame can't be too far away.