On Born to Die, Lana Del Rey styled herself as an old-fashioned leading lady for the hip-hop generation, a “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” in her words, all heavy-lidded voice, dramatic orchestrations and unhurried trip-hop beats. It was a bravura makeover.
But the singer who serenaded a bad boy in “Blue Jeans” with the words, “You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip-hop,” shifts the terms of reference on the follow-up. “Brooklyn Baby” finds her “churning out novels like beat poetry on amphetamines”, listening to her “rare jazz collection” and singing “like Lou Reed” in a guitarist-boyfriend’s band; her voice is dreamy and breathy, the precise opposite of Reed, while the music is a hazy dream of 1960s orchestral pop.
The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is the producer, a team-up that bears other fruits too. “Cruel World” revives the “cowboy psychedelia” of Nancy Sinatra collaborator Lee Hazelwood while “Ultraviolence” finds Del Rey making languid use of 1960s girl group The Crystals’ controversial line: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”
Despite her self-depiction as victim, Del Rey is too much of a presence to play ingénue to anyone’s Svengali, her vocals going from sleepy murmurs to the Goldfrapp-style swoops of “Shades of Cool”. But a slow pace and lack of beats cause Ultraviolence to run adrift in its second half, ending with Del Rey warbling an unconvincing vibrato in “The Other Woman”, miscast as just another retro-torch singer.
Lana Del Rey