Lana Del Rey's new EP, Paradise, serves as a closing bookend on a year that was kicked off by the singer's previous EP, which had a paired but opposite function. Lana Del Rey served as an introduction to the sleepy-voiced singer, assembling some of the strongest songs from Born to Die. Paradise is longer, but less essential, more a summary of her persona than an attempt at developing it.
Nothing here is on the same level as Born to Die, with only a few tracks, like "Gods and Monsters" and bonus track "Burning Desire," attaining a similar degree of snappy, mesmerizing languorousness. For some artists, this kind of grubby cash grab might come off as disingenuous, but it fits right in with Del Rey's brilliantly conceived façade, which has continued to prove perfectly divisive, infuriating just the right amount of people, inspiring a healthy spate of handwringing defenses, takedowns, and general examinations, hitting the sweet spot for millions of others. She's become one of pop's most clearly sketched figures, and one of its most recognizable faces, despite existing as a purposeful void of original content, an anti-entity formed from the shadows of Americana imagery.
Paradise employs the same hyperlink style as Born to Die, icily referential robo-pop that's teasing but always reticent, with songs that demand attention while refusing to be anything but somnolent. Yet while the songs on the album were the right mix of alluring, mystifying, and grating, the ones here mostly comprise the latter two qualities. "Yayo" is a thin bundle of Lolita imprecations and sun-baked poolside sexuality, wrapped in wispy string production. It coasts on the same kind of rhythmic repetition that crops up on tracks like "American" and "Body Electric," all of them leaning too heavily on a pre-established atmospheric skeleton. "Cola" is the opposite, pushing Del Rey's pop-art take on signifier-addled femme fatality too far into the realm of cheekiness, but also shattering a persona that already exists inside a hall of mirrors.
But songs like those don't feel as exploratory as they do accidental. Torn between these moderately interesting castoffs and the aforementioned bits of wheel-spinning lethargy, the EP is a mixed bag. "Blue Velvet" functions as a serviceably creepy cover of a song whose eerie potentiality was already explored in the eponymous David Lynch film. It's a fitting selection, and with her dead-eyed doll stare and insistently flat rendering of mid-century American tropes crossed with dilettantish criminal aspirations, Del Rey seems herself more Lynchian than ever on Paradise, with the drugged sexuality of a mannequin halfway come to life.