I felt that the following review did not do the album justice so I posted a follow up here:
I really like the new Lana Del Rey album, Ultraviolence, in spite of Dan Auerbach’s lazy production. I know there is a lot of internet noise claiming Lana Del Ray is a fraud, but I actually think she is one of the few originals in pop music right now. She has a dreamily haunted voice, is great at crafting darkly beautiful melodies, and is great at taking different kinds of American iconography in her lyrics and forging something new with them. I must admit that I am a sucker for David Lynch and Del Ray’s blending of American pop culture and dark dreams sound like they would be the perfect soundtrack to a Lynch movie. I am predisposed to like the kind of music she makes.
Del Rey had a pretty consistent vision across her albums and singles. You are not going to mistake her for a different artist. If you liked what she did before you are going to like what she is doing now, while the opposite is also true. One of the reasons I believe her first album was a success was that she took several retro elements, infused them with some modern production and lyrical references, and ended up with her own small patch of uncharted territory.
I first want to state that I like her new album. Any criticism thrown at it is minor and not actually aimed at her. She still sings fantastically, although I do miss her lower register a bit, which is my favorite part of her range. If you don’t think she can sing listen to the final track on her new album The Other Woman. The melodies are still great. She also still uses the language of pop culture, mixes it with a dark sexuality, and creates something her own. Some people will claim that she is inauthentic, because she records under a false name, but the pop world is littered with people who built self created myths. Bob Dylan is not his real name and he never road to New York City in a box car. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious are, surprise, not their real names either. That is not to say that she is as talented as Bob Dylan or as ground breaking as the Sex Pistols, not by a long shot, but in the world of pop music she has created something uniquely hers. That alone should be applauded.
However, I do have some minor quibbles with her new album. These I mostly attribute to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys fame. For someone that has a strong retro vibe in her work, I can’t imagine that there was very much thought put into the idea of recording her mostly live to old analog tape, dousing her in a shitload of reverb, and having her track with a live band. I love the sound of analog tape and I also love when people track live to it. Hell, my band did that on our new album. But with someone that takes so many influences from the past this seems to make her work even more backward looking than it really is. It just seems like such an obvious choice that to me it shows the mind of a producer with little imagination.
First he puts so much reverb on her voice that it pushes her voice to the background at times when it is her biggest asset. Sometimes this ridiculous amount of reverb actually makes it hard to understand what she is singing about. Also, I think with someone that draws so much influence form the past you have to be careful with how “retro” you make her record sound. It becomes more of a genre exercise that it ought to be. I also find the backing band to be lacking in any real personality. They do serve the songs, but to the point that if she wasn’t singing on them there wouldn’t be much going on musically that was interesting. Look, I love effects, I like hearing real musicians play, I like these songs and this singer, but I can’t help but feel the arrangements could be more memorable in and of themselves.
Listening to her two albums, and the song that she did with Bobby Womack, I believe Lana Del Rey is a great talent that will probably have a long career of making interesting records. Hopefully next time she won’t choose a hack like Dan Auerbach to produce it.