Street Sounds: Del Rey shines when sad

American singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey’s third album, Ultraviolence is a study in romanticized oblivion.

American singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey’s third album, Ultraviolence is a study in romanticized oblivion, peopled with dark characters, lost lovers and abandoned compulsions.

Del Rey (Lizzie Grant) effectively becomes a gauzy Nancy Sinatra or a hazy Bobbie Gentry, wrapped in reverb and neo-psychedelia. She takes the New York City chamber pop/baroque rock aesthetic to cinematic film noir settings (Shades of Cool, Ultraviolence) and affects the stance of a Warhol Factory girl – a healthy, successful one, though.

Lou Reed gets referenced in Brooklyn Baby, a sincere portrayal of longing and nostalgia for lost 1970s’ ideals and lifestyle… the “Me Decade” with its happy face on.

Del Rey’s association with producers Dan Auerbach and Rick Nowels is sympathetic, particularly with Auerbach, whose moody guitar work adds dark flourishes to Del Rey’s songs.

She celebrates a weird time period, when the urban culture of the 1960s was discovering the counterculture before it slid down into hippiedom and the resultant ‘70s pessimism.

Vocally, Del Rey is unpredictable. When it seems that she might stick with the baby doll voice she favours in Cruel World, she shifts and goes for a low end Marlene Dietrich delivery. She skirts jazzy textures and ends up in melancholy pop tracks (Sad Girl) and haunting songs like Pretty When You Cry, where she shines. That song is in the same setting as the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Greenwood hit Bang, Bang.

At this point, the album becomes a caricature of Del Rey’s swooning hot mess image and suffers from tunnel vision, becoming contrived. It’s hard to break character and Del Rey’s zone is a hazy place.

If Ultraviolence was a painting, it would fall under Impressionism, maybe a late period Monet without the back story. The album is atmospheric and melodramatic, and it takes these qualities to new heights and depths.

Del Rey never breaks character and if you choose to go along, it’s an intoxicating presence. Otherwise, once suspension of disbelief is lifted, you’ll finish listening early.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star on Fridays.