The term “Ultra-violence” originates from the classic book and film A Clockwork Orange; a tale about a dystopian future which uses extreme aversion therapy to cure people of their less than desirable traits. “Being the adventures of a young man who couldn’t resist pretty girls or a bit of the old ultra-violence… went to jail, was re-conditioned and came out a different young man… or was he?” One of its’ main themes looks at the consequences of conditioning humans to not have certain feelings; what happens when you essentially turn them into robots with repressed emotions? The term didn’t exist beyond the Clockwork Orange world, until now. And with that being said, Lana Del Rey presents her second full length album Ultraviolence.
BUY Lana Del Rey’s new album Ultraviolence (Deluxe Edition) on iTunes NOW!
What can be said about Lana Del Rey that has not already been said? Appearing out of seemingly nowhere with her Lana Del Rey persona debut, 2012’s Born To Die quickly became a phenomenon. From the grainy music videos and images of an Americana most of us only see on The Discovery Channel, Del Rey captured the attention of many people. From the internet to Brian Williams, it seemed everyone had an opinion, for better or worse. Whether you praised her or criticized her, it became apparent that she had struck a chord.
Ultraviolence, her second full-length album, also seemingly popped out of nowhere, all of a sudden emerging with an onslaught of singles leading up to the release. Produced by Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Ultraviolence sees Lana steering away from the hip-hop influences that dominated Born to Die. Auerbach is a perfect counterpart to help steer the Del Rey ship, producing a toned down sound that, while still lush, has more of a psych-rock, jazzy undertone, or “future jazz”, as Del Rey calls it (Auerbach also makes a few appearances playing instruments on the album).
Album opener “Cruel World” sees Lana leaving a negative relationship. Sentiments like “shared my body and my life with you / thats way over now / there’s not more I can do / you’re so famous now,” make me think twice about if she is singing about a significant other or a past version of herself. Either way, she has left this situation behind. The song, a psych-rock influenced track, is reminiscent of the late 60s/early 70s and makes it clear that Lana is aiming for something different, sonically.
The second song and title track, “Ultraviolence“, sets the stage of an obsessive and damaging relationship that Lana is involved in. The song references The Crystals 1962 song “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)“, which is more than most people are ready to stomach. Is she glamorizing domestic abuse? I personally find the accusation absurd; since when did speaking earnestly about a personal subject matter equate to glamorization?
This smoothly slides into “Shades of Cool“, which finds Lana wishing she could save her man from heroin and himself, but still being desperately in love with him. On it’s own, I found the chorus of Lana’s oohs & ahhs to be a bit draining; however, in the spectrum of the album as a whole, the song found a new meaning. It is an integral part in understanding the struggles of the relationship she is chronicling; the feelings of despair and desperately trying to fix her man, while simultaneously realizing he is unfixable. A guitar solo mid-way through is an unexpected, yet welcomed break from the otherwise slow-tempo song; it is part of the mastery of how her songs feel both old and new.
“Brooklyn Baby” is the closest we get to happiness on the album. Upon first hearing the opening guitar riff, I was hooked. Lana sounds light and airy, free of any of the worries or problems of her relationship. “Brooklyn Baby” is also the first hint of irony and sarcasm in the lyrics as she rattles off a list of references that literally made me laugh. Sentiments like “my boyfriends in a band/ he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed / I’ve got feathers in my hair/ I get down to beat poetry/ my jazz collections rare/ I can play most anything/ I’m a brooklyn baby,” made me sit for a minute and ask myself if she was serious. In a recent interview with the New York Times (‘Finding Her Future Looking to the Past’) she talks about how she came to NY looking for a “Dylan-esque dream of a community of writers” but never found it, ultimately leaving and looking elsewhere. This leads me to assume the song is satire, or a dream of an older New York City scene, where all her references would feel more at home.
“West Coast” remains my favorite song on the album, and gets better with every listening. With the sound of a hazy California dream, Lana cooes about being in love over a slowly building chorus. A running theme throughout the album is the rampant heroin use of her man, and I cannot help but feel like this song, with all the haziness I speak of, feels like the high of being in love and possibly on drugs.
Crashing down from that high we find ourselves with “Sad Girl”. A song that best exemplifies Lana’s use of the words “future jazz”, she sings about the woes of being a mistress on the side. Coinciding with this feeling is the following track, “Pretty When You Cry”, which sounds simple and devastating all at once. Del Rey’s voice is quiet and weak as she sings about waiting for her man endlessly, despite the fact he never comes for her. The final cut of the track uses the original recording sessions and vocals, which included Del Rey shakily singing and making up many of the lyrics on the spot. The end result is an artifact of a song, by pop music standards. Effortlessly vintage sounding, it is a reminder that sometimes a song doesn’t need to be perfectly recorded and re-mastered; sometimes actual emotions and cracking vocals through lyrics like “I’m stronger than all of my men, except for you,” are perfect as is.
While I like both songs, they seem to take the drama that she has been building throughout the album, and steer it off course a little bit. She spends “Money, Power, Glory” talking about how she desperately wants nothing more than those three things; considering the song is built solely on sarcasm, after a few listens, it begins to feel a bit empty. “Fucked My Way to the Top“, with lyrics like “mimicking me is a fucking bore to me” and “you got nothing / I got tested / And I’m the best, yes,” sounds like she is exploring bitterness by calling out people who have criticized her success.
“Old Money” has Lana recounting how despite having the never ending love of her father, and the on-going glamour of her mother, she still feels alone. “If you call for me, you know I’ll come” she sings to her man, I imagine.
The album concludes with a cover of the Nina Simone track “The Other Woman” which is a deeply somber account of how the other woman ends up alone, crying herself to sleep, because she doesn’t have a love to keep. It is as if we jumped back into the story of Lana and her doomed relationship, but with a sudden end.
Overall, Ultraviolence is a solid album. The first half of the album is great, with songs that each contain their own world of melodic landscapes and tales of heart-break and woe to accompany them. The second half drags a bit and seems to go off-course, but ultimately ties back in with the story Lana was presenting us. She is still playing her character, if not a slightly more grown version of her character, from two years ago. Despite whatever criticism I find myself throwing her way, I am grateful for the way her albums are able to transport me to an alternate universe, where emotions run deep, and where thoughts like who liked my last Instagram post, retweeted my tweets, or liked my selfies on Facebook seem like laughable fodder for people who don’t know what the power of a deep love can do to a person. In a world of high-gloss pop-stars with perfectly mastered songs, always singing about self-empowerment and how they are the strongest “bad-bitches” in the world, there is something oddly comforting about hearing Lana talk about emotions deemed too controversial, too subversive for mainstream success. But, hey, aren’t repressed emotions where ultra-violence all started? 8/10
– Amanda ‘Bergz‘ Berghorn –
BUY Lana Del Rey’s new album Ultraviolence (Deluxe Edition) on iTunes NOW!