The Divine Comedy of Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence
In an interview maybe eight years ago, I saw Kanye West let loose one of his ludicrously self-aggrandizing statements and then -- seemingly, anyway -- briefly choke down laughter at the audacity of what he'd just said. I like to think, perhaps wishfully, that it was a glimpse of the man behind the curtain: Sure, he's got a gargantuan ego -- a necessity and an occupational hazard for a Bowie or Beyonce or any self-mythologizer who dreams that big -- but it's just a component of the character he dons like armor to square off against the world. (And yes, there have been plenty of moments over the years where it seems he's lost his sense of humor or started believing his own mythology due to flattery and/or autosuggestion, but at least his music has evolved a lot more than his bragging.)
I 'll bet that every button-pushing statement and ludicrous lyric Lana Del Rey lets loose makes her laugh the way Kanye was trying not to that day.
Because more than anything else, her elaborately constructed caricature of the bad-girl/thinking-man's-fuck is performance-art comedy, and to take seriously a persona that spouts lyrics like "My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola" or "Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn's my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend" is to chase the wrong tale. (A similar thought can be found in Luke Winkie's "Lana Del Rey Fandom Is Exactly the Same As Pro Wrestling Fandom.") That it's set to shimmeringly beautiful music twists the plot even further.
Her persona is unwaveringly on-message while evolving into a few new musical shapes on her third full-length, Ultraviolence (which feels more like her fourth, since the eight-song/33-minute Paradise EP appended to her 2012 Born to Die LP was one of the meatier "deluxe edition" retail-performance-enhancers in recent memory). Since the new album is just one stroke on the Del Rey canvas -- and since she has already inspired reams of Barthesian fartery and discourse about intercourse from Anais Ninnies and/or people who actually have master's degrees -- we'll limit the focus here to, you know, music.
Yes, the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach produced eight of the main album's 11 tracks, and yes, he's put a slightly different spin on her sound. There's more guitar, less orchestration and less rapping (how many albums can you say that about?), and the sing-song melodies that were all over *Born to Die* are almost entirely gone. The sound is still lush and (editor: dock writer 10% for using this adjective) cinematic, but usually employs dense echo rather than orchestras to get there.