Lana Del Rey is the alter ego of musician Lizzy Grant. Ultraviolence is the second album from the 28 year old chanteuse, whose breakthrough 2012 album Born to Die reached number 2 on the Billboard Top 200. Born to Die was a popular album, but not a fully actualized one.
Riding off of the success of pop ballad “Video Games” and a headline-grabbing performance on Saturday Night Live, Lana became a staple of every sad teenaged girl’s Tumblr. Del Rey makes torchy ballads that are as much influenced by dream pop as they are traditional pop like Nancy Sinatra. Her songs almost exclusively mention men. Whether she is chasing them, sitting beside them, or waiting on them, her songs often feature nameless romantic interests. Because of this, Lana is often looked upon as the anti-feminist (this label was strengthened by a recent interview in which she dismissed feminism, saying it is “not an interesting concept.”) In an era when most female singers have a quintessential female empowerment anthem (i.e. Katy Perry’s “Roar”), Del Rey takes a completely different route. This is what makes her controversial and, yes, interesting.
Ultraviolence follows much in the same vein as the album that preceded it. However, it is apparent that Del Rey’s vision is more fully realized with this album, and the addition of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as the producer makes the music more sonically superior.
The album opens with “Cruel World,” which sets the stage for the whole album. In this song, like most of the following songs, Lana’s voice sounds far away, like she’s singing somewhere beyond the clouds. It is reminiscent of Del Rey’s Born to Die track “National Anthem” as she mentions parties, red dresses, and alcohol. Sounds fun, right?
The thing about Del Rey’s music is that even when the song’s lyrics sound like she’s having fun, she still sounds so sad. It makes sense that one of the songs is titled “Sad Girl.” In fact, I think that it would make more sense as a title than the A Clockwork Orange-referencing Ultraviolence. The self-titled song really has nothing to do with the Anthony Burgess novel nor the wicked 1971 feature film. It instead features lyrics about domestic violence via borrowing some lyrics from The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss).” The song is, in my opinion, one of the strongest songs on the album in the music sense. But the lyrics feel from another time, and are bound to cause some controversy amongst people who might think they glamorize domestic violence (“he hurt me but it felt like true love”).
I think it is important to note that Del Rey is likely playing a character here. It’s dark. “Shades of Cool” features the standard Del Rey lyrics of cool, attractive, unattainable men. The music is reminiscent of dream pop band Mazzy Star and Del Rey’s high register, as she sings “You are invincible, I can’t break through your world ‘cause you live in shades of cool,” is impressive. Her voice has never sounded better.
“Brooklyn Baby” is a stand-out track, as she sings of her influences. “My boyfriend’s in the band, he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed. I’ve got feathers in my hair. I get down to beat poetry.” Del Rey claims that this song was supposed to feature Reed himself, but he died the day they were going to complete it. Quite a tragic turn, and the song would have probably been better with Reed’s influence, but it’s still one of the best songs on Ultraviolence.
The second half of the album runs a bit slow, and the torchy ballads are plentiful. “Old Money” feels like it could have been an outtake of “Young and Beautiful,” Del Rey’s contribution to last year’s The Great Gatsby’s soundtrack. In fact, one line of “Old Money” – “Will you still love me when I shine, from words but not from beauty?” – feels so stunningly similar to the chorus of “Young and Beautiful” – “Will you still love me when I’m not longer young and beautiful?” that you begin to wonder if Lana is becoming a little bit of a one-trick pony.
Lana Del Rey has already made quite the name for herself in the contemporary pop world. She is an artist that many like, many don’t like, and many don’t understand. It is often difficult to tell where Lizzy Grant ends and Lana Del Rey begins.
In the current female pop genre, Del Rey stands out in the sense that her subject matter is very different than the Kelly Clarkson’s and Taylor Swift’s of the world. Mixing new and old influences, her music sounds fresh while still being the saddest pop singer in recent memory. Her lyrics could have been the away message on an emo teen girl’s AIM profile. The sound of the album is very much influenced by producer and The Black Keys member Dan Auerbach. The guitars sound more bluesy (see “Shades of Cool”) and the reverb and dreamy elements make for a very pleasant listening experience. Del Rey should enlist Auerbach for her future albums as well, as he seems to be able to take what she brings and take it to the next level.
Del Rey’s only top 20 single so far has been the Cedric Gervai remix of “Summertime Sadness,” which really shouldn’t be as much contributed to Del Rey as it should be to Gervai, as it sounds very dissimilar to Del Rey’s original. Her music has found a huge online audience, and her following is massive.
Del Rey’s music is a little too weird to be on pop radio, but some of the more rock n roll-influenced tracks (i.e. “West Coast”) might make their way onto the Rock or Adult Alternative radio stations.
Lana Del Rey is already very successful, and I would expect Ultraviolence to extend her popularity. Dan Auerbach’s name might bring some more attention to this album as well. As it should – his influence on Del Rey’s album has made it a stronger album. It will be interesting to see where Del Rey goes from here.
Reviewer: Tricia Stansberry
IRC: Lachlan Vass
Powered by Facebook Comments