Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey has her detractors. Often, her quotes have got her into trouble, and her sincerity has been questioned. I wanted to strip all that away and just respond to the music in my ears with this latest album – “Ultraviolence”. I listened to the Deluxe version, which has 11 tracks and four bonus tracks.
Her album from 2012, “Born To Die”, was very strong and anything after that would have a lot to live up to. “Ultraviolence” is a polished, slick production with gorgeous, layered harmonising vocals. All the Lana Del Rey hallmarks are present – emotional torch songs, sad lyrics, naughtiness, controversy, lush strings, twanging guitars, and that powerful voice.
Her nods to the past have been well documented, and many songs here have that epic quality of one foot in some distant golden age and the other in post-modern angst. If your lover leaves you, wait a few days to put this on – or you may never recover. The choice of Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys as producer was inspired.
Of course, some songs are stronger than others, but it will stand proud in her canon. Catchy melodies linger, and light and shade forever does battle, like the sun passing in and out of the clouds. Witness the sweet vocals and dark lyrics of the languid “Cruel World”. “Brooklyn Baby” is great, echoing throwback pop, whilst Lana delivers another of her trademarks with a sexy, breathy vocal on “West Coast”. If she ever hooks up with Chris Isaak, I think the earth will explode. “Pretty When You Cry” is clearly influenced by The Eagles’ “Hotel California”.
“Old Money”, which references Nino Rota’s “Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet”, has melancholic strings and is rather beautiful. This declaration of yearning to be with someone: “but if you send for me, you know I’ll come” is the kind of sentiment that grounds the fans’ response to her. Of course, “Fucked My Way Up To The Top” has to be one of the best titles ever. Apparently, she’s having a swipe at another singer. Not Vera Lynn, surely?
With references to drugs, guns, doomed relationships and the sleazy side of life, controversy will surely follow this artist once more. The sleazier it gets, the more of a guilty pleasure it becomes. But the title track, “Ultraviolence” goes into dangerous and unwanted territory. Looking back, once again, at a previous era, we are taken back to “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” by The Crystals from 1962. Del Rey’s lines, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss” and “he hurt me but it felt like true love” lie within a beguiling vocal and melody. That she would utter these words begs many questions, and their inclusion doesn’t come as a huge surprise but it’s disappointing to say the least. However she defines the meaning of this song, she has a responsibility about the message she’s sending out.
As for the album in general, this ultra-dramatic assault on the senses, punctuated by outpourings of despair, won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For me, however, the right amount of classy nostalgia, humour and street poetry gives this record a certain savage grace. The Queen of New York City is still plugged in to the body electric.
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