Too cool for pop
Thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs up. You know, culture moves so fast in the 2000s that sometimes, things get a little mixed up.
Maybe it’s my memory, or maybe it’s the comparable hipness of the stars, but at some point, I started confusing 28-year-old American singer Lana Del Rey with 18-year-old New Zealander Lorde, and I didn’t really bother sorting out the mess.
I knew I had listened to and enjoyed both at some point (Who wrote “Royals” again?), and they both have a similar “I’m too cool for pop” vibe – Lorde, a little more doe-eyed and nervous, Del Rey ready and posing – so, forgive me. But the release of “Ultraviolence” has jarred my memory, reminding how hypnotized I was by Del Rey’s nostalgic and ultracool “Video Games” song a few years back.
The new album is produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who has been on fire this year. First, he gave us Ray LaMontagne’s “Supernova” and now this.
I hate to say it – being on the Jack White side of the Keys/Stripes drama saga – but Auerbach’s making a believer out of me.
With this project, he’s set up Del Rey perfectly. I imagine him saying to her, “Just do what you do,” and encouraging her to make slow-burning ballad after slow-burning ballad. Nearly every song’s a Bond-cool, Nancy Sinatra-styled haze that would fit perfectly at the end of any film (maybe that’s why she calls her music “Hollywood sadcore”), when the hero dies, when the city explodes, when the world’s falling apart. Make no mistake, this is the soundtrack to the end.
The record opens with “Cruel World,” a Mazzy Star-like masterpiece. It has the suicide vibe of Sky Ferreira’s “Night Time, My Time,” along with the I’ve-got-nowhere-to-go, nobody-to-impress sluggishness of any EMA track. Come to think of it, there’s been a lot of pop/rock stars exploring this epicness recently and I wholeheartedly encourage this trend.
Is a pop world built on EMA’s back a bad thing? I think not. I want every star from Katy Perry to Miley Cyrus getting their Courtney Love on, getting in touch with their inner Nico, and trying to write the soundtrack to every drug-fueled party in the world.
Just take a minute to think about where pop music was even five years ago: The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” was the No. 1 song of the year.
Now, sure, we still have crap like that but at least there’s a solid trend of quality music that is threatening to overtake it, with Lana Del Rey leading the way. “Ultraviolence,” despite its flaws (it’s overlong and sometimes the melodies could be stronger), is a quintessential album, a generation-defining work.
If I was 14 right now, this is what I’d be playing endlessly on my phone, on my headphones, when I was in my room alone. Ah, what the hell, I’m not 14 (actually 31), but I’m going to do it anyway. Mom, leave me alone and let me sink into the melodramatic fantasy. I’ll just come up for air when I need pizza or something.
“Shades of Cool,” one of the best tracks on the album, nearly outdoes Adele’s “Skyfall” theme for jet-setting double-0 style.
It’s on the same high level as Del Rey’s recent cover of “Once Upon a Dream” (originally from “Sleeping Beauty”) for “Malificent,” the new film starring Angelina Jolie. “Shades” leads into “Brooklyn Baby,” which features great lyrics like, “Well my boyfriend’s in the band/ He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/ I’ve got feathers in my hair/ I get down to the poetry.” It actually paints a portrait, and one of which you want to be a part.
You want to be there as her boyfriend strums and she sings what I assume would be Reed’s “Perfect Day,” (which she should definitely cover now), enjoying an endless afternoon of love and sweet tunes.
People say that Del Rey’s a product, that she’s either fake or dumb or both. But who cares if any of that is true? If you can fake it this well, then just keep the charade going.
4 1/2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: “Cruel World.”