In the latest Album Review Forum, three of our writers tackle the ongoing debate that is Lana Del Rey. Depending on which side of the line you stand, LDR is an aesthetic and culture of her own, or a fabricated image. Regardless, Del Rey is an undeniably compelling story and talented songstress to boot, and Ultraviolence might just be the album that puts her haters to rest. Join the discussion. It’s about to get heated…
Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence
Reviewer #1: Lea Weatherby
If you loathe Lana Del Rey and her music, then it’s time, at the very least, to respect her for her impeccable, depth bomb branding. For many of us, Del Rey’s debut album, Born to Die, was a uniquely refreshing one, positioning her as a post-modern pulp-fiction icon that wandered effortlessly out of the underground.
It wasn’t until details about who Lizzy Grant really was that this on-the-lam, fresh-out-of-another-era starlet suddenly became a surreptitious commercial failure. Del Rey had duped us into believing she was the real thing and since none of us like to feel stupid, we condemned the songstress, discarding her as though she were a defective model on the pop culture assembly line.
With today’s release of Ultraviolence, it seems Lana Del Rey is here to stay and shame on us for trying to drive her out of town. In fact, the album is far better than it needed to be to prove her artistic worth. Vocally, Del Rey draws inspiration from the likes of a dizzied Petula Clark and a disenchanted Mazzy Starr, with stylistic nuances that span over decades, making the singer seem both young and old, vintage and new, classic and yet incredibly cool.
Some of the albums strongest tracks sound how a psilocybin trip feels, bringing you back to the hottest day of the summer in a year you had yet to be born in. The instrumentals on tracks like “Cruel World” and “Ultraviolence” impress most with wobbly guitar solos that seem to float on the haze of notes crooned through cigarette smoke and pouted lips.
It’s high time we stop taking Lana Del Rey so literally, because the best part of any story worth hearing is often times, its embellishment. With Ultraviolence, Del Rey is boldly inviting us to embrace just that, rather than denounce the irresistible fallacy we all secretly love her for.
Verdict: Don’t take Lana Del Rey so literally, because the best part of any story worth hearing is often times, its embellishment.
Reviewer #2: Nicolas White
Lana Del Rey has gradually shaped her aesthetic since arriving with her debut two years ago. The first spaced-out notes of Ultraviolence signal Del Rey’s arrival at the destination she’s driven towards; the meticulous artist has reached steady ground.
With Dan Auerbach at the helm, Ultraviolence shows restraint, taking time to build Lana’s preferred moody atmosphere soaked in noir. The singer bears her influences proudly, here, particularly on the title track when she chirps “He hit me and it felt like a kiss,” of course recalling The Crystals, and the work of Carole King and Phil Spector. Lana Del Rey’s infatuation with replicating the underlying darkness in ’60s girl-group music is no secret, but in order to go on the journey with her, one must first “buy in.”
While referencing a Chevy Malibu on “Shades of Cool” conjures a very targeted nostalgia, it begs the question: does this reference mean anything in 2014? Because a Chevy Malibu looks like a run-of-the-mill sedan now; it’s not recognizable or romantic as in this anterior universe. Lana Del Rey’s experience of this bygone era lives only in old photographs and pop culture pastiche, so how can her music amount to anything more than appropriation?
Perhaps, though, that’s a bit unfair. Many musicians still mirror the sounds of this era (Auerbach, in particular), and likely will do so as long as pop music exists. Forgoing this hesitation for a moment, the lush environment that Ultraviolence creates is enveloping, and quite often, beautiful. Del Rey shapes her voice in various shades of delicacy—from sultry elegance to smoky vigor—and her vocals alone make this album worth a listen. The added touches of echo and reverb nicely complement her performance, without feeling overwrought.
Album centerpieces “Brooklyn Baby” and “West Coast” add nice (and much-needed) variety to the record. The former brings touches of male vocals meant for the late Lou Reed before his passing, while the latter gets more adventurous with production and is arguably the best song of the singer’s early career.
“Sad Girl” encompasses everything about the LDR movement, again, quite directly—it’s the depression-as-culture aesthetic that speaks to so many of her fans (other sad girls and boys). Lana Del Rey has carefully designed this vibe, making it her signature, and the unique nature of her sound is a rare achievement in a pop music climate filled with sound-alikes.
Verdict: Ultraviolence is a testament to Lana Del Rey’s talent and singular vision, but would benefit from variety. If you buy-in to the ’60s imagery, it’s a lush and beautiful aesthetic. If not, it’s a postcard.
Reviewer # 3: Pauline Pechakjian
In an age where mainstream music acts as a stimulant and helps people pretend that they’re happy all the time, Lana Del Rey’s music acts as the sweet depressant—the glass of whiskey that brings back memories of better days past and the bittersweet realization of a troubled here and now. However, the taste of Del Rey’s tune brings the true escape from the banalities of mundane everyday life for her fans and admirers. By coming face-to-face with her own struggles, Lana Del Rey crafts her most personal, somber, and beautiful album yet in her third studio release, Ultraviolence.
Ultraviolence (which is a reference to the term used to describe extreme violence and heightened aggression in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange) was produced by Dan Auerbach, the vocalist/guitarist for The Black Keys, and is interspersed with his vintage-sounding guitar riffs that meld perfectly with Del Rey’s haunting voice. The album tells the story of a tumultuous romance in various glimpses with a lover caught up in “guns,” “white lines,” and “drugs” whom Del Rey can’t fix but regardless, she’s “in love,” as she repeats in multiple tracks.
This album presents a rawer, undressed version of Del Rey’s previous profile, and with that, even more controversy regarding her critics. For some reason, Del Rey’s music is slandered and criticized unnecessarily, as pop fans find her to be too unique and indie loyalists question her authenticity. Regardless, Del Rey seems to not care for what they say, and with this album, she shows that she will make the music that she wants to make, paying no mind to critics who just don’t get it. In all honesty, Lana Del Rey does not and cannot appeal to everyone—because her music is just that unique, almost to where it best serves a niche fanbase.
Lana Del Rey is a bona fide old-soul, and whereas most modern music is super fast-paced and society is caught up in the cult of the new, her music is incredibly nostalgic and best suited for dreamers with regards to the past and a desire to return to what seems to be “better times.” Although to fans (such as myself) Del Rey’s tracks are unique and amazing; if someone doesn’t like her sound or her overall vibe, her music can come off as dreary or repetitive, as there isn’t much variety in the overall range of songs covered.
Ultraviolence starts off with “Cruel World,” a song about a romance gone wrong embellished with Auerbach’s guitar riffs that would fit right in with the soundtrack of an alternative film from the ’60s. The next song is the title track, which details more of a tumultuous romance through Del Rey’s sultry, hollow voice. She references The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss).”
“Shades of Cool” has the rhythm of an old-time ballad. During the chorus, Del Rey’s voice reaches beautiful new heights to capture a femininity in music that is very rare in the industry today. The tune of “Shades” is somber and nostalgic. “Brooklyn Baby” is one of the highlights on the album, and its quirky lyrics and slow tempo, mixed with Del Rey’s husky vocals and Auerbach’s seventies-inspired guitar, make for the perfect recipe of an absolute hit. Del Rey sings, “I’ve got feathers in my hair / I get high on hydroponic weed” as the acoustics of the song play a melody much lighter than the other, darker tracks on the record.
The first single released from Ultraviolence, “West Coast,” is also another highlight on the album. Its slowed-down chorus and nautical feel set quite an accurate tone for the rest of the album when it was released over a month ago. “Sad Girl” is also very nostalgic and has almost a blues-inspired feel to it. “Pretty When You Cry” is absolutely gorgeous and heartbreaking; Del Rey’s quivering voice and the isolated acoustics have the ability to get straight to the core of the heart.
To break from the consistent solemnity of the tracks, Del Rey has two witty songs which can come off as slightly sarcastic responses to her loud and proud critics. “Money Power Glory” mocks the materialism of modern society, which Del Rey herself seems to not be too concerned with, and “Fucked My Way to the Top” lightly reflects upon the dark realities of the entertainment industry.
The album makes a return to the somber tone with “Old Money,” in which the songstress sings: “My father’s love was always strong / My mother’s glamour still lives on and on / Yet still inside I felt alone.” The lyrics depict images of loneliness, nostalgia, and a desperate desire to return to happier times past that practically everyone can relate to, at least in one point of their lives. Del Rey concludes the beautiful album with a cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman.” Some of the key elements of the original song remain with the new version on Ultraviolence, but Del Rey adds her own unique twists with her own singing style.
Ultraviolence really only made me love and admire Lana Del Rey’s music even more. Sure, she may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, her dreamy melodies, nostalgic lyrics, and references to my favorite books and poets make her one of my absolute favorite artists. The new album is rawer, truer, and more insightful to Del Rey’s personal life—through metaphors and hidden meanings, of course. It is definitely worthwhile and incomparable, just like the entire Lana Del Rey experience.
Verdict: Ultraviolence really only made me love and admire Lana Del Rey’s music even more.
There you have it; whether you subscribe to Lana Del Rey’s aesthetic or not, her talent is on full display with the smart Ultraviolence. For those that resist the advances of this tempting seductress, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the hate (because you probably secretly dig her, anyway). Yet, if the past 20 years of the internet are any indication, people will probably just go on hating her guts. Until next time…
Article by Lea Weatherby, Pauline Pechakjian, & Nicolas White