Album review: Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

Despite being aesthetically pretty, Lana Del Rey’s downbeat songs fail to emotionally connect.

Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence has been produced by The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach. Mario Anzuoni/ Reuters
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Lana Del Rey


2 stars

In case you've been living under a rock for the past two years, Lana Del Rey is not a happy bunny. It has been no secret from the moment the New York-born singer released her 2012 debut album Born to Die.

Recently, while promoting this sophomore effort, she committed the alarming sound bite “I wish I was dead already” to interview tape.

Yet the 28-year-old's ascent to the top of charts worldwide continues to prove unstoppable, regardless of (or perhaps powered by) her personal lack of cheerfulness – Ultraviolence has already hit the No 1 spot in more than 60 countries.

The song titles are the first clue that Ultraviolence won't be the proverbial barrel of belly chuckles: Sad Girl, Cruel World, The Other Woman.

Given that she recently revealed a split with her long-term boyfriend, you would automatically conclude that this is simply a break-up record, if it weren’t for the fact that her black cloud is nothing new.

Produced by The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, the sounds of Ultraviolence are undeniably carefully crafted, outwardly oozing with a sultry, disconnected cool – but overlaid with a creeping self-awareness that constantly teeters on the brink of jumping the shark.

Because while her breathy anti-paeans from another era are aesthetically gorgeous, the actual words beneath the effortless sheen often leave you exasperated.

The title track is one such example, declaring that “He hit me and it felt like a kiss” in a depressing parroting of an oft-repeated lyrical line.

On the Lou Reed tribute Brooklyn Baby, meanwhile, it's difficult to ascertain whether she's being archly sardonic: "Yeah my boyfriend's pretty cool / But he's not as cool as me". And Pretty When You Cry (spoiler: it's actually Del Rey who looks good while sobbing) further conspires to mark her out as a chanteuse without the requisite soul to truly emotionally connect.

If Lana Del Rey didn’t already exist, some shrewd record-company executive would have invented her by now – there’s barely a box that has not been ticked when it comes to marketable female singers.

You have to give her credit for creating a rather cohesive album, even though, if her past quotes are to be believed, she never originally intended to record a follow-up to Born to Die.

Those guiding Del Rey’s career right now must be hoping her dark mood takes an upswing before she self-destructs.