Lana Del Rey a.k.a Lizzy Grant rose to fame in 2012 with the sleeper hit “Video Games” that shot her second studio album Born To Die high up on the charts, as well as shrouding her in infamy when she performed said song quite weakly on Saturday Night Live. However, the misstep didn’t slow Lana’s roll, and her third studio album Ultraviolence promised a more refined and vintage sound as compared to her prior pop-oriented releases. Should Lana go back to the sound that launched her into success? In my opinion, definitely not.
We open with “Cruel World,” one of the best tracks of the album. This song spirals in and out of control, just as Lana does in the world of her lyrics, and… it’s mesmerizing to say the least. This song features one of my favorite lines on the album: “Get a little bit of Bourbon in ‘ya, get a little bit suburban and go crazy.” “Cruel World” sets the tone for the rest of the album and puts you under the influence.
“Ultraviolence,” the titular track, definitely delivers (and for those unaware, it’s title was lifted from Anthony Burgess 1962 classic “A Clockwork Orange”). The song details a tragic abusive relationship between Lana and “Jim,” quoting a famous song, with familiar subject matter, by The Crystals: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Though the spoken word moment towards the end is a bit distracting from the tone of the song, this is one of the strongest on the album for sure.
“West Coast” is the first single from the album and what a single it is. The change of tempo from beach jam session to nodding out in the back seat of a Cadillac is executed well and keeps the song interesting. This tempo change is visualized perfectly in the video for the song and should also be checked out if the song gets you in the groove.
“Sad Girl” drips of insatiable sexuality, complete with breath-y ad-libs and a jazz flare. This track is rumored to be the next single and it seems like a solid choice. The song is a great representation of the sound on the album and could potentially become a hit like her single “Video Games.”
“Old Money” is the fraternal twin to “Young and Beautiful,” Lana’s critically applauded contribution to the soundtrack of Baz Lurhmann’s version of The Great Gatsby. With similar themes wrapped up in an earnest but desperate lullaby, this song is a stand out on the latter half of the album where some of the weaker tracks (like F**ked My Way Up To The Top and Money Power Glory) reside.
One of Lana’s best songs ever, “Black Beauty,” is hidden in the bonus tracks rather than shining on the main tracklist (with other gems such as “Florida Kilos” and “Is This Happiness”). Lyrically, this song is stronger than most of her efforts, and the mysterious vibe she conjures is opaque, aromatic, and most importantly, convincing. These are the kinds of tracks Lana’s voice lends the most to.
The production on Ultraviolence does wonders for her unique, though often divisive, vocals (much thanks to Dan Auerbach who I mentioned was working with Lana in WIUX’s review of Turn Blue). Comparing this to her older work, this seems like the sound she has been aiming for all along. There are some drawbacks however. Sorry to say, but Lana’s lyricism hasn’t much improved. It takes only 1:20 seconds to get the first staple lyric in her repertoire: “put my little red party dress on,” and there’s plenty of name dropping, mascara, dads, and references to Hollywood to go around. It’s difficult judge someone’s writing when it’s as personal as her’s. Many songs on this album are speculated to deal with former boyfriend Barrie James-O’Neill, and the often mentioned Jimmy Gnecco could be the Jim discussed in the title track “Ultraviolence.” However, her repetition gets distracting at points, and thus weakens the potential strength of the album overall. Always bringing the cinematic melodrama, dripping with real personal tragedy, Lana Del Rey is honing into her prime sound and I am beyond pleased with the results. Bar-hopping on Hollywood and Vine and watching the sun rise on the beach, Ultraviolence is one-night journey, and your waltzing in a drunken stupor with the songstress herself.
If you liked this album, check out The Abbey Road Sessions by Kylie Minogue, a “best of” collection re-recorded acoustically at the famed Abbey Road studios, which delivers on sensuality, strong hooks and airy vocals. Also take a listen to I Never Learn by Lykke Li, which has all the melodrama of Ultraviolence but with vocals more akin to the late Amy Winehouse.