Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
THE odds may have been stacked against her but Lana Del Rey has pulled a new album out of the bag and continues to impress as one of America’s most consistently intriguing singer-songwriters.
Ultraviolence, her follow-up to the phenomenally successful Born to Die, may not represent too radical a departure from its predecessor but it does underline Del Rey’s qualities as a great creator of downbeat yet cinematic songs about life’s darker characters – and this despite being quoted as saying she had nothing left to say following the controversy surrounding Born To Die and her own feelings of disillusionment with life (which have only just been revealed).
Enlisting the help of producer Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys fame), Del Rey has cut back on some of her more extravagant instrumental tendencies in favour of a more restrained, yet still widescreen collection of songs that dissect love, lust and the dangers surrounding them both.
Hence, a rogue’s gallery of characters take centre stage, such as a prostitute, a woman who enjoys being slapped about, or love addicts obsessed with different kinds of addicts. It’s not exactly an upbeat, life-affirming listen but the songs have a beguiling, captivating quality.
Former single West Coast is a classic case in point, emerging as an intoxicating mix of dreamy, lazy vocals, bluesy guitars and mood pop. What’s more, it changes pace a couple of times to completely disarm and keep you on your toes.
Early on, and for the most part, the laidback vocals and bluesy guitars are great, but the surreal diversions add an extra element that don’t seem to work at first, but which get better the more you hear them. It’s quietly addictive.
Just prior to that, Brooklyn Baby tosses up another provocative gem… a song that mixes sweeping electronics with creepy lyrics about an obsessive rock band groupie, while Sad Girl weaves some beautifully melancholy guitar riffs around another downbeat tale of a prostitute who falls hopelessly in love with one of her tricks (“his money on the side makes me so, so sad… I’m a sad girl, I’m a bad girl…”).
Title track Ultraviolence is similarly provocative, chronicling a woman who enjoys the punishment her lover regularly dishes out over some equally epic instrumental arrangements.
And then there’s the volatile Fucked My Way Up To The Top, which takes a filthy pot-shot at certain elements of fame while again drawing on that laidback, ethereal voice and some moody back-beats and melancholy piano. Anyone expecting an autobiographical listen had best think again!
If there’s a criticism, it’s perhaps that a lot of the album’s songs follow the same kind of formula (epic, slow-building, overly downbeat)… and certainly, tracks like The Other Woman (an underwhelming cover version with which to end the LP) and Pretty When You Cry may well test the patience and make you question why Del Rey can’t find someone happier to write about.
But for the most part, Ultraviolence should keep you fixated and largely impressed. It marks a welcome return from one of America’s foremost artists.
Download picks: West Coast, Brooklyn Baby, Sad Girl, Fucked My Way Up To The Top, Money Power Glory