Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

A trip of beautiful, dismal imagery with a road paved by electric whines that will make one swoon.

Additional Info

7.6

ALBUM: Ultraviolence

ARTIST: Lana Del Rey

2014

Pop

When Lana Del Rey first started to get recognized by critics and the public the result was a consensus confusion. Was she a sex symbol? Has there ever been a pop star with such a velvety voice and isolating pout? Flower crowns? Can you believe how good this is? Can you believe how bad this is? Is she real? Questions swarmed around the mysterious singer like a tornado ready to destroy her at any false move. This unstable response to the singer should have been questioning her unorganized first album, when it it instead started questioning her talent. Lana Del Rey is a worldwide known name now because of her debut album Born to Die, and because that confusion was not only an impenetrable cloud, but intrigue and intrigue turns into popularity, which turns into record sales, seven million records sold worldwide. In all honesty Lana Del Rey is an acquired taste. One can critique Lana Del Rey, questioning her authenticity, but he or she would be jumping the gun, considering that people gravitate towards her like a magnet, she is overwhelmingly successful with only one technical release, and she is talented, which is arguable about many of the pop stars out today.

Ultraviolence is Rey’s second album release with twelve tracks and three bonus tracks that collide together in order to make a much better crafted vision of the bluesy vixen. The production is very cohesive that builds a signature sound for the singer: whiny electric guitars, subtle, numbing drumbeats, and faded orchestral effects in the background in order to add a bit of drama. Majority of the time much of the production sounds the same. It could be accused of being repetitive, until the realization hits that one is forgetting about the most important instrument of all: Lana’s seductive, lipstick-smudged voice. Lana is completely unique in modern day with vocals that conjure isolation, self-loathing, denial, sex, satirical reflection, and a range that is breathtaking. This fifteen track album can be a bit overkill with songs that seem to all sound the same after a while. But it’s not that they lack personality or individuality, but they have the same thematic emotional intensity. Lana’s vocals have an entire range of a sexual lethargic feel. Sometimes they sound childish, other times exhausted, and at times triumphant. There is no doubt that there is talent manifested within Lana Del Rey with her outstanding range with tracks like “Is This Happiness?” and “Cruel World.” The album stumbles along the line of sounding boring, stable, or just familiar. Ultraviolence allows Lana to explore her concept much more clearly and with a sound that fits perfectly. No tracks seem to be a nuisance as the themes seem to overlap, lustful revenge, denial of broken relationships, holding onto a nostalgia that in reaction strangles the present, and loneliness to a tee.

The tracks on Ultraviolence all consist of women characters either involved with a man in a melancholic relationship or about sexual power. “Black Beauty,” is a slow ballad about how this woman cannot help but want to rescue her man from the black depression he has fallen into without being able to understand the amazement of life. “Ultraviolence,” sings of a woman who is stuck in a relationship that brings comfort in the abuse. It is a paradoxical song that finds beauty and resurrection in the unnecessary violence. The theme of dominating men and hopeless women appear over and over again like a broken record with one wanting to ask, “what is this really about?” Is she painting a picture of poor women on purpose? In a recent interview by Fader magazine, the topic of feminism comes up as Lana brushes it aside stating that it is “not interesting” and that her “idea of a true feminist is a woman who feels free enough to do whatever they want.” Thus, do not be mistaken that this is a feminist album because it does not glorify women, nor the men. Lana’s album is a time machine that brings one back to the drug and lust fueled decade of the sixties, romanticizing a genre of life with her seductive tone and fantastical imagery. It gets exhausting after a while trying to figure out who Lizzy Grant is and what her implicit message is. It is better to just take it for what it is. Sex sells. And Lana Del Rey is a fantasy. A fantasy that uses its magic to create emotions individual for each listener. One gets what they want out of the album and out of Lana herself. If one takes away the mystery, there ends up being no reason to love her and no reason to hate her, which are two separate facets of the same passion.

Her content is perfect for the persona she has invested in. The lyrics falter between poetic and satire. “Brooklyn Baby,” is a track that pokes fun at the hipster phenomenon with words that force a laugh, “I’ve got feathers in my hair/ I get down to beat poetry/ And my jazz collection is pretty rare.” Or the track “Fucked My Way To The Top,” is exactly about what it sounds like, but it is a pure sarcastic gem. Lana is successful because of her controversial image, while people through knifes of accusation of inauthenticity her way. She failed as Lizzy Grant (her real name) and rose from the ashes as Lana Del Rey, a show name. Just like her lyrics, Lana could be perceived as a satirical plug, but that’s where authenticity does come into play. Of course Lana seems unreal, she’s like a dream, but where some may see her “falseness” as a flaw is where they stumble; it’s made her a star. Lana Del Rey is not supposed to be Lizzy Grant or else that is what we would call her. David Bowie has done this along with even Beyonce. Different artists make do with the cards they are given and Lana has been playing the game victoriously. Even behind the questionable personality, she radiates entertainment, a vision, and talent. What else are we looking for? Society today is built upon breaking everyone down, yet Ultraviolence has illustrated that we have yet to do that to Lana Del Rey.

Ultraviolence was produced by one half of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, and has more of a minimal rock feel. The album is dramatic and at times completely gorgeous. Her songs get in a limbo between reality and reverie as she sculpts a lugubrious world where time has slowed to a lull and romanticism flourishes. It is scary to think that Lana Del Rey might only be a one trick pony with her specific vision, but Lizzy Grant is certainly not. Ultraviolence is a trip of beautiful dismal imagery with a road paved by electric whines that will make one swoon, and even laugh, questioning one’s contentment.

“High up on Hollywood hills taking violet pills/ Writing all my songs about my cheap thrills”

1. Cruel World
Yes, here we have fallen down the rabbit hole. An introductory track of flustered vocals tainted with smudged lipstick and radiating hormones and sex appeal like a nuclear bomb site. It is difficult sometimes to take Lana for who she is, or who she plays, but it is undeniably enchanting at parts. Completely paralyzing. With “Cruel World,” she reminds one of the sex appeal, the sixties flashback, the teasing, the darkness, the mystery. It’s the ultimate fantasy. The opening guitar riffs are simple, but are the right amount of sensual production; at moments it seems like too little, however, for an opening track the suspense is key. “Got your bible, got your gun/ and you like to party, and have fun/ and I like my candy” Lana swoons the listener over in verse that leads to the chorus that sounds like a noir film. The naughtiness of it is attractive, bordering on tacky, her playfully sinful inflections. She makes one believe that this is reality. She also lets go of the cliche badass that is supposed to relieve her of her troubles when she’s “finally happy now that [he’s] gone,” which almost seems like a revelation of good judgement that makes one want to pat her on the back...until the chorus comes along. Lana seems to start singing about the mental revolution that seems to explode in the youth of cul-de-sacs: “Get a little bit of Bourbon in ya/ get a little bit suburban and go crazy.” The track is about alcohol, youth, lust, love, and how a combination of those things can lead to a hell of a night and beautifully tragic mistakes. The sad tone of Lana’s vocals adds to the vixen despair persona she carries so well, it makes one question if she really is happy, as if all the virtues and vices of being young means automatic contentment. But they don’t. And she is heartbroken, so one can only hope that she keeps things together. The vocals on the second chorus a beautiful. She sounds almost baby like, but it’s really great. The song drones on for seven minutes, but it’s this weird drunken, haunted lullaby that makes you want to know more, hear more. And it works.8.0
2. Ultraviolence
The opening of the track is not an attractive choice. The robotic violins sound like that of a soap opera and drag the mood of the song; it makes the song sound cheesy. The production follows the simple route like the majority of Lana’s songs, but the lyrics are the shining gems of this track. With a Clockwork Orange reference and a tragically ironic relationship played out by the metaphor of a poisonous flower, the track takes root and blossoms in the fucked up nature of the affair. It’s gorgeously insane, purposefully unbelievable. The trap of the fantasy. “He used to call me DN/ that stood for Deadly Nightshade/ Cause I was filled with poison/ But blessed with beauty and rage/ Jim told me that,” the lyrics seem hollow as Lana begins to illustrate a mysterious Jim character. His hands are lips: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss,” which is where the title of the song starts to make sense. The term “Ultraviolence,” is a word from the brutal book A Clockwork Orange, which means something that is unnecessarily violent (shocker?). The nature of the song is a paradox: she finds comfort in his abuse even though it’s violent and he “saves” her even though he hurts her. Sounds completely dysfunctional, yet this track is the glass slipper for Lana’s character. It is dramatic, daunting, and dormant.6.5
3 Shades of Cool
The melody of the track is playful and mischievous. The dips and yawns of Lana’s vocals are delicate and gorgeous. Her vocals sound the best so far on this track. At first the track is a bit of a turn off because it starts to sound so similar to the other opening tracks that it tends to stray from the fantasy into a mild depression. It sounds boring, yet the chorus resurrects the entire track. It’s triumphant as Lana belts out, “but you’re unfixable,” sounding like a serenading Disney Princess with Opera-like tones with solid notes reaching into the deep valleys of her range. Then all of sudden the seductive tone comes out in the next line, “I can’t break through your world.” The juxtaposition is really nice. The distorted guitar breaks the subtlety with Lana’s haunting voice in the background. This moment is critical as it mimics the desperate nature of Lana wanting to believe that she is the only “blue,” the only high, in her man’s world, but she is not. The line, “And when he calls, he calls for me, and not for you,” is loaded with passive aggression and sadness, as Lana is helpless in her love disaster as she wants to be his only, and help him, but she can’t. Some other content is beautiful as well such as, “My baby lives in shades of blue/ blue eyes, jazz, and attitude.” The tries to reflect its title with the different sounds and tragic lyrics, but seems to be mostly monochromatic.7.0
4. Brooklyn Baby
Simple, studded guitar strumming is a refreshing breather from the elaborate introductions while Lana’s voice sounds light and elated. But the title might not be all too revealing, so put your mason jars down and comb your beards, the hipster generation is not so misunderstood anymore. The lyrics would make one want to role their eyes if it were not for the beautiful saturation of it. It’s wonderfully brilliant to be reminded that she could be mocking her entire following, that the lyrics, “I’m churning novels out like beat poetry on Amphetamines,” “and my jazz collection is pretty rare,” and “I get high on hydroponic weed,” are one big snuff at a new generation that she is a part of. The song is blunt, simple, a laugh in your face that still holds a youthful honesty. It’s like if one wrote a song when they were fourteen, thinking they were so misunderstood, only to record it ten years later. The song still has this naivety and accessibility that let’s everyone in on the joke. This song symbolizes how Lana Del Rey finally is starting to build a grip on her vision, on the image and message she wants to write (it also doesn’t hurt that this drugged out pop song is a catchy one too).8.5
5. West Coast
“Down by the west coast they’ve got a sayin’/ ‘if you’re not drinkin’ then you’re not playin’,” Rey begins on the ode to the side of the Pacific as the womping synths buzz and the funk filled guitar jams in the background. Her voice is whiny and subtle until the pre-chorus arouses a bit of excitement out of the seductive singer then the tone of the song changes completely. The pace slows down and her vocals evaporate into a dream sequence. The two toned nature of the track is exciting, interesting, and weird. The song is reverie of the west coast, highlighting the cliches and the youthful recklessness of the sunshine and hollywood life. “Down on the west coast, they love their movies/ they golden gods and rock ‘n’ roll groupies,” is just one of the vary few lines that tries to solidify the shining coastal life. A sensual love ballad about maybe being in love quite literally with her man or the idea of the life she lives, but either or, it is seductive and hypnotizing as one tries to delve into the meaning and pop culture studded lyrics.8.0
6. Sad Girl
Such tragic denial fills the vibrations of this track as Lana sings, “Being a mistress on the side/ it might not appeal to fools like you.” The ironic choice of the word “fool” begins the song on the right note in order to achieve the perfect tone. The character that the song is about is set up well constructed: a damsel in relationship distress, fooling herself that her choice was worth it because “her” man is worth it. She sounds drunk and her voice is deluded. The whisky backup vocals of ooohs and ahhs are bit too much, but the chorus is depressingly pretty. It’s not a track that stands out very much, but it still can be pleasant if it doesn’t fall repetitive for six minutes.6.5
7. Pretty When You Cry
For the first time on Ultraviolence the sadness and ache in Lana’s voice does not seem artificial or fantastical- it sounds as though her voice is going to crack right within the first few verses. This authenticity may or may not be real considering that the chorus is artificial, but it only adds to the drama. The hum of the guitar sounds soulfully depressing, but in such gorgeous way like a Nirvana song or the song “Black Hole Song.” Granted the track is the usual tragic of Lana, she seems to have nailed on it with her pitches and the production. At times she sounds like she’s about to whisper and others like she is mimicking a child. The added backup vocals are beautiful and blend nicely. There is this self-wallowing characteristic that enables the track to be the type of song that you would want to ball your eyes out to or make you go smash in your ex-boyfriend’s car. It’s charmingly dismal, almost breathtakingly so.9.5
8. Money Power Glory
The numbing drumbeat and subtle piano background are the only major production affects as Lana chimes in with a tune, a blasphemous religious anthem. The chorus is exultant as she sings of the materialistic trinity: money, power, and glory. With a mocking “alleluia,” followed by a chorus that criticizes a growing atheist nation. One really starts to think about the message or the literal meaning of the song, it’s very sad, and one can only question if Lana is questioning us? Her legato notes and elegantly high pitches are luminescent in the pitch black world Lana depicts.7.0
9. Fucked My Way Up to the Top
Immediately the song’s title attracts the listener; it’s a great hook. But the song sounds like many songs Lana has already produced, and this is a trap that Lana has to be careful not to fall into. She has this hypnotic and distinct voice, but she has to learn to utilize it in a way that it won’t sound repetitive or a gimmick. However, aside from the production and simple vocals, the track is satire genius. She is making fun of anyone who thought that her sexual appeal is the only reason how she has become who she is. It is hilarious and brilliantly honest. “I am a dragon, you’re a whore/ don’t even know what you’re good for/ mimicking me is a fucking bore,” Lana teases at her skeptics in a more than sarcastic tone that borders on passive-aggressive amusement. This track is an example of the signature Lana Del Rey aesthetic with perfectly executed content that is not afraid to poke fun.7.0
10. Old Money
Romantic. Dramatic. Completely wondrous. Like a magnetic lullaby Rey’s vocals pull you as you drift into the soulful blues. The track wreaks of nostalgia as Lana reminisces about her youth as the “New York City Queen.” The battle of the past and present, realizing that you’re not the same person you were, but that if you could you’re willing to go back there. Lana sings of a man from her past that she is willing to run back to only if he calls her. Vivid imagery, sentimental objects that remind her of the time that’s gone and the age that is dissipating. The string section of the song adds drama and the harmonies added in the chorus are breathtaking. It’s a lovely track.9.5
11. The Other Woman
The vocals are muffled as string instruments drone on against her. They differ from Nina Simone in the airy depth and the lightness, but it is a wonderful song to cover. The cover starts off mellow and slowly escalates as Lana’s voice grows profound but more fragile. It is hard to match up against the legend of Simone, but Lana puts in a valiant effort. The extra vocal embellishments towards the end of the track are overkill, thus the song is beautiful, but Lana’s execution does not live up to the magnificent Nina. However, the cover choice is brilliant, considering her cohesion with the rest of her album, as well as her cohesion with her character. It’s dreamy and perfectly desperate with moments that seem overdone.5.0
12. Black Beauty
The song is about the man Lana is describing who is dark (metaphorically and literally), wanting everything to painted black and not being able to see the positive and beauty of life. Lana writes that she will do anything for him to make him happy, but realizes that there is nothing she can do to appease him: “oh, what can I do?/ life is beautiful, but you don’t have a clue/ sun and ocean blue, the magnificence it doesn't make sense to you.” It’s a lovely song with the slow drums and lazy guitar that are coupled with the content of unconditional love that cannot penetrate the depression of her lover. It’s a gorgeous love song with the chorus, “Black beauty,” as Lana sees the good in his despair; it helps one realize the simplicity of life that we can take for granted. It’s a wonderful closer to a daring, satiric, velvet album that can conjure tears or a single chuckle.8.5
13. Guns and Roses
The double meaning of the title (“he loved guns and roses”): he loved the eighties band or he appreciated the beauty and violence of life, could be literal or metaphorical. The track is boring after a while and falls into a lull of being a cliche bad boy ballad. 5.5
14. Florida Kilos
This track wonders farthest from the heard with its R&B beat and faster tempo. The vocals are seductive and playful. The guitar bits are jazzy with electronic claps along echoey chimes. The song was written by Lana along with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys and filmmaker Harmony Korine. It’s a youthful pop track with “white lines,” “Tattoos,” and “guns and the summertime.” It sounds like a remix to one of Lana Del Rey’s originals, but this is what makes it so surprisingly appealing. It makes sense that it’s a bonus track because of how it does not fit with the album, yet it could be a single all on its own.8.5
15. Is This Happiness
Has a similar sound to “Old Money,” but is a bit more stripped down with the raw piano as well as faded sound effects and is delicately pleasant. The applause during the chorus make the tone of the song appear more daunting as if Lana is questioning the life she is living. She is questioning her man and her monotonous life. Yet she questions it in a beautiful poetic nature with the word, “High up in the Hollywood hills crushing violet pills.” The track is filled with subtle grief, which makes it alluring. It sounds honest, but like floating in a dream with the finger plucking of strings towards the end. It’s a beautiful ballad that deserves more show than just a bonus track.9.5
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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