Friday, 13 June 2014

PERSONA NON-GRATEFUL: THE NEW ULTRAVIOLENCE ALBUM BY LANA DEL REY

In what is either a True Detective style creepy sign, or very lo-fi viral marketing, someone has scrawled the name Lana on the pavement today outside my flat in chalk, amid some occult symbols. Meanwhile, the second album from Ms Lana Del Rey, titled Ultraviolence, in a bald reference to A Clockwork Orange (she had already exhausted that other hip transgressing novel Lolita) is upon us. This is not a review - I am still taking in the deadly nightshade that is this aural intoxication - but more of a nod of assent.

Del Rey is a persona - so what? so was Oscar Wilde - and she gives good dark mood.  Her interview in today's Guardian is perhaps more nihilistic than even Detective Rust, though - she claims not to want to be alive, and not to enjoy her enormous success or performing live.  With ennui like that, who needs fiends?  A common criticism is that her soporific melodies are attached to lyrics that are obsessively one-note: that basically they are torch songs about doomed love, and screwed up femme and homme fatales, set amid a faux America like the film sets in Day of the Locust - an American landscape of dives, diners, fast cars, gamblers, suicides, sex maniacs, addicts, bikers, bibles, guns, and video games - a shady, shaded world that seems best rendered with a sort of Monty Norman twang, and slow-dirge drumming - to call her default tone funereal is to call Poe macabre. 

It is the fact that begins the interest, not that closes the coffin lid on appreciation. Unlike Poe's stories, one wants to be in Lana's - she makes woozy Californian self-destruction appealing in the way that Pulp Fiction did drug-taking and murder.  It's a clearly fictional set of tropes, and she is moving them about her cross-genre chessboard slowly, black and white.  There is nothing new under the sunglasses, she is saying, but to be languid, beautiful, evil, and dying is simply to be the rotting half-eaten apple in Paradise.

The core of her message is that normal life may be banal and require political engagement, but that there is a darker Sex and Death America, that, like the ear in Lynch's grass, yawns beneath the public surface, an imaginary B-movie realm we recognise and are drawn to.  Because what is bad for us sometimes tastes better.  This album is the sonic equivalent of Vivi in 3 Days to Kill - Amber Heard's outlandish lipstick-spy. Sure, the sex, drugs, sado-sadness and death is only cartoonish here - but so are so many of our wicked dreams.

This may not be the best novel, poetry book, short story collection, movie, TV show, or album of the year - but it comes close to offering the same illicit pleasures that such would.  Good work from an ungrateful wretch, maybe, but we can thank her.
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