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Elizabeth Woolridge Grant has come a long way. From the trailer park to stadiums, from a nervous, off-key SNL appearance to having her hits sung back to her by thousands, from plain old Lizzie to Lana Del Rey, global superstar and icon, all in a few short years. Remember how easily we all fell for the charms of 'Video Games', an evocative, charismatic song that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, its author perfectly primed and packaged for a public hungry for something real, something authentic? She had sass, confidence, and a haunting, poignant voice that spoke right to your soul, a combination ripe for media eulogising; a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" said she, "Lolita lost in the hood" said Time. "See?" we were told, "Pop stars don't have to be manufactured. Here's a genuine breakthrough, a bona fide discovery!" Even Pitchfork, normally so adept at cutting through industry smoke and mirrors, were taken in.

Of course, her story began to unravel as soon as the Internet snoops did a little digging, and a more prosaic picture emerged. All was not as it had seemed, and Del Rey was scrutinised - and crucified - like no one before her. From ruminations on the nature of authenticity in music to whispers about the provenance of her fulsome pout, every little detail was dissected, argued over, and extrapolated into a hundred boneheaded theories - type "Lana Del Rey criticism" into Google and you'll see what I mean. Worst of all, none of this noise focussed on the songs, which is a shame as they asked many questions and provided precious few answers. Her lyrics hinted at a booze-soaked, subservient past, full of bad boys, abusive relationships, and an almost sadomasochistic glee at being the downtrodden girlfriend (or the other woman), while the music shifted between a casual nonchalance and an irritating, vacuous mush of swooping strings, big emotional choruses, and pointless crescendos. It even had its own genre: "Hollywood sadcore" (again, her words).

And now we have the follow up, Ultraviolence, an album that doubles down on the themes of Born to Die and comes across as an even more tiresome, unhappy listen. "I wish I was dead already," she recently told the Guardian, alluding to the dark side of fame, and that sense of suffering, of aggressive melancholy, is baked into every song and almost every line. Gone is the archness and laid-back humour of lines like "You fit me better / Than my favourite sweater," replaced by an uneasy sense of impending doom - in her world, personal tragedy is never far away. Remarkably, for a singer who uses Hollywood's - and by extension, America's - Golden Age as such a stylistic crutch, there's also precious little romance on show; it's perhaps her greatest failing that you're left with not an ounce of sympathy, or investment, in the seedy, gritty yarns she's so desperate to recount.

The music fares little better, being fashionably retro with few nods to modernity. Everything has a big band feel; dramatic strings fade in and out of the mix, while the drums are often caressed with brushes instead of sticks. It differs little from its predecessor in having a cool, slick sheen, and anyone hoping that having the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach behind the controls would add some groove and ballast will be sorely disappointed; aside from an awful, squalling guitar solo on 'Shades of Cool' that jars and sits uncomfortably with the rest of the song's unhurried sprawl, it's unclear exactly what he brought to proceedings. Even her voice, capable of wondrous beauty, sounds deflated, her trademark breathy hush starting to grate about three songs in. It's a distracting affectation employed in place of substance, originality, or anything that could be described as personality.

If all this is Del Rey's attempt to dispel notions of glamour in her life - or that of a global pop star - she's succeeded in making it sound a murky, dangerous place, but to what end? There's no social commentary, and little sense there's even a personal story arc - of redemption say, finding the good in the bad, or some kind of cathartic closure - behind the "bad/sad girl" persona. Del Rey is a character, obviously, but why she exists, and why Grant feels the need to ground some personal history behind a third person narrative or a kooky persona is the great mystery that's still to be explained. All that's left is the sense that, in striving for depth, Del Rey has produced the exact opposite - a shallow collection of empty dreams and faux glamour that takes its time saying nothing of note at all.

But then this album - and Lana Del Rey - is not really about the art, or the music, at all. She's joined the ranks of pop behemoths who drop their surname - Justin, Britney, Beyoncé - and you can virtually smell the money in its production values, the credits listing heavy-hitting songwriters-for-hire such as Rick Nowels, Greg Kurstin, and Daniel Heath. It's a project that screams "synergy" and "brand reach", hence the recording of classics for H&M, and soundtracking a Jaguar ad; clearly, there's a great deal invested in her success. Most ironic of all was a contribution to The Great Gatsby soundtrack, that novel's depiction of empty decadence and the excesses of the rich serving as the perfect metaphor for her expensive, hollow work.

In her grand tradition of coining absurd descriptive phrases, Del Rey and Auerbach have christened all this "narco swing", an apt characterisation if only one assumes it's short for narcoleptic; it takes some doing to make sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll sound boring, but in her hands, the vices of hedonism scan as crushingly monotonous. She could channel anger, or revenge, or terror, into something positive, or use her chequered past as a spur to reach out, maybe even say something meaningful - Lord knows the world could do with more people willing to stand up and fight. Instead, all we get are dollar signs fluttering steadily in the background; "Money is the reason we exist," after all. How much are her depictions really based on her own life? Where in fact does Elizabeth Grant end and Lana Del Rey begin? The most damning aspect of Ultraviolence is that, by the end, you really couldn't care less.

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