Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence: Album Review

June 18, 2014 § 2 Comments


Back in 2012,  Lana Del Rey was the somber face that sparked a media firestorm that became the Born To Die album. After endless pans from popular sites comparing her masterpiece to a “faked orgasm” among other things, the singer was hesitant to release a follow-up. But two years later, LDR’s shell has grown stronger and her soul much, much darker. Her new, no-holds-barred persona is packaged in her sophomore album Ultraviolence, released on June 16.

Gone are the trip-hop influences that she was introduced with, to make away for instrumental, piano-and-guitar based charmers. Born To Die had meat to its bones and weight to its rhythms, and Ultraviolence is more atmospheric and substantially more haunting. The singer teamed up again with Born To Die writers Rick Nowels and Daniel Heath, but traded in her Emile Haynie-produced beats for a hazier, more tender production – courtesy of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. 

Unlike her previous singles, the songs on this album have no place on Top 40 charts and may not even be subject to cheesy, unwanted club remixes. Their un-transformative tone creates a unique soundtrack that grasps the heart strings and refuses to let go without a fight.

The album opens with “Cruel World” – a hazy, somber ballad with country influences. She sings with a rich twang, “I shared my body and my mind with you, but that’s all over now…” The track embodies the “Gangsta Nancy Sinatra” vibe her label has been trying to pin on the media for some time now, but this time it is in its truest form. It continues the tragically romantic tone that bled through her debut album. The tune refers back to the Lolita themes she’s infamous for: Got your bible and your gun. You like your women and you like fun. I like my candy and your heroin. And I’m so happy, so happy now you’re gone.”

Following is the title track “Ultraviolence” that is bound to place listeners in a trance. The chilling ballad makes reference to The Crystals‘ controversial 1962 single “He Hit Me (Felt Like A Kiss).” The song’s lyrics surrounding stark domestic abuse will definitely raise eyebrows from various womens’ organizations, but the singer doesn’t care. She recently told The New York Times, “For me, a true feminist is someone who is a woman who does exactly what she wants. If my choice is to, I don’t know, be with a lot of men, or if I enjoy a really physical relationship, I don’t think that’s necessarily being anti-feminist.”

“Shades of Cool,” the album’s latest single, is very classic sounding that leads back to her Lizzy Grant demo days. The song wraps around LDR’s lilting and euphoric voice that she doesn’t get to highlight as often. The angelic chorus is juxtaposed by a crashing electric guitars and rousing drums. “Brooklyn Baby,” one of the rare lighter songs on the album, is a welcomed breath of fresh air. Its gentle coos and airy acoustic tone lead by the satiric chorus that mocks the hipster generation of today:

“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 Beat poetry. And my jazz collection’s rare, I can play most anything. I’m a Brooklyn baby. I’m a Brooklyn baby.”

Ultraviolence continues the airy ambiance for a short while with “West Coast, ” the lead single and stunner of the album. It has a rusty, tarnished feel compared to the singer’s uber-polished debut single “Born To Die.” An incredibly sultry ode to the nostalgic California, it as a tinge of Stevie Nicks “Edge of Seventeen” especially in the chorus. Yet the song has a slightly jagged transition between the verses and chorus that doesn’t quite sonically blend together. It makes the chorus sound like a separate dream a part from the harsh reality of the verses, which could possibly be intentional. Overall, it prevents the ballad from being too perfect.

The album drowns in its own self-pity more so than Born To Die‘s controlled drips of emotion that leans on being too overwhelming, and honestly quite annoying. Throughout the project, there is a strong usage of layered vocals and reverb that emphasize the songs’ dreary tone as seen in the self-deprecating “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When I Cry.”

“Pretty When You Cry” has the potential to be a painfully vulnerable winner, but the repetitive themes of drugs, domestic abuse and masochism grow old as they have been put through the ringer ever since her Lizzy Grant debut. The only feature that almost saves it is the crying guitar that pierces the eardrum, which is juxtaposed with the singer’s grief-stricken wails.

With previous songs like “Off To The Races” and “Carmen,” Lana Del Rey played the trapped submissive partner. On Ultraviolence, she flips that role with the surprising “Money Power Glory.” It is her idea of revenge, which is a total rarity with her music. No longer is she the victim; she’ll take you for all you’ve got and doesn’t give a fuck about what you think: “Freedom comes from the call. But that’s not what this bitch wants. Not what I want at all.”

Yet the album disappointingly sinks back into monotony with tracks like “Fucked My Way Up To The Top,” an ill-advised attempt to take a stab at her critics yet ends up sounding too try-hard. When the track list was revealed back in May, this was the title that stood out the most as a potential winner. But unfortunately the bland song doesn’t deliver.

The ending track sums up the tragic theme that follows Lana Del Rey everywhere she goes, every since he made her debut in the music world. “The Other Woman” (her version of Nina Simone‘s 1959 classic torch song) is exquisitely vintage sounding, with untouched cracks in her voice that ties with with the dreamy production.

While Born To Die immediately hit you with a one-two punch of trill production and stunning yet shockingly melancholic lyrics, Ultraviolence slowly wraps around your body and pulls you into a dark (albeit redundant at times) fantasy that has been created in the mind of Lizzy Grant. Whispers of authenticity and speculations about her artistry in the past, starting from her Saturday Night Live performance, her father’s bank account and whether her lips are real or not. But, as seen with Ultraviolence, all of the pondering questions have now been answered. Lana Del Rey quickly rising as the anti-Pop definition of what Pop Music means for this generation.

Overall Rating: 3/5

Songs On Repeat
“West Coast”

Songs To Skip
“Pretty When You Cry”
“Fucked My Way Up To The Top”
“Old Money”

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