Love, loss, anger and betrayal are just some of the harrowing, movie-ready topics underneath the folds of Lana Del Rey’s return to music in 2014. Having only been on the market for a few weeks now, Ultraviolence has already topped the charts across the globe, debuting at Number 1 on the ARIA Albums Chart upon its release and sweeping the US by storm.
Del Rey’s ambitious 2012 long-player, Born to Die, was an exquisite introduction into Lana’s unashamed obsession with bad boys, the girls that love them, and, of course, post-war Americana. 2014’s effort doesn’t veer far from these topics, although lyrically, this is the deepest Del Rey has ever gone, even penning a song about her time as a bona fide member of a cult.
Let’s “have a gander”, shall we?
The greatest choice for an album opener this side of 2014, ‘Cruel World’ is an epic, powerhouse of a grunge-meets-classic-rock ballad, one that places Del Rey immediately into heroin chic territory. There are flashes of Courtney Love throughout Ultraviolence, but it’s the instant influence of people like Marianne Faithfull that shines through. In fact, it is Faithfull who Lana seems most enamoured with on this record. “Got your bible and your gun. You love to party, and have fun. I love your women, and all of your heroin,” she sings, all before menacingly adding, “And I’m so happy, Now That You’re Gone.” An exceptional way to kick off proceedings.
Making reference to The Crystals’ 1962 hit single ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)’, Del Rey uses this particular vehicle to sing, mostly, of domestic violence blues, but also as a glimpse into her own run as a member of a cult. This is the track that begins Lana’s newfound obsession with the fully-realised middle-8. “I love you the first time, I love you the last time, yo soy la princesa, comprende mis white lines, ’cause I’m your jazz singer, and you’re my cult leader, I love you forever.” The track in itself has seen Lana called out as being everything from pro-domestic violence to an appropriator of cult-like activities. But there’s something a lot deeper to be discovered within this song, something many seem to have missed.
SHADES OF COOL
Mix the soprano vocals of Lana Del Rey with the electrifying guitar solo work of producer and Black Keys’ member Dan Auerbach, and what do you have? Near perfection. Stay away from the video, though, because that’s a little bit naff really.
This has just been announced as the next single to be taken from Ultraviolence and THANK GOD for it. The most commercially viable moment on here, ‘Brooklyn Baby’ is a bit like the more sincere and thoughtful younger sister of 2012’s ‘Radio’, eclipsing any of the truly big pop moments from Born to Die. Lyrically, Del Rey keeps things focused and cute, all whilst placing her tongue firmly in cheek. “Well my boyfriend’s in a band,” she sings, “he plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed. I’ve got feathers in my hair; I get high on hydroponic weed.” Quite amazingly, in just under six minutes Lana Del Rey’s ‘Brooklyn Baby’ makes beat poetry sound like the greatest activity in the world. The ‘most valuable player’ on all of Ultraviolence.
Single Number One shifts from moody rock to slow, shoegazing swing, proving itself to be yet another highlight from Del Rey in 2014. Auerbach’s production stands out on this monster too, rollicking away in fine, Auerbach form and throwing in elements of Lana’s beloved hip hop. The first and only hip hop inspired moment to be found here.
In case you were unaware, Del Rey can be one sad girl, especially when her main squeeze has a “Bonnie on the side”. The chorus makes up for a disappointing central motif, but only just. It’s not until the incredibly whimsical middle-8 that things really start to stand out. That being said, this is strictly ‘album track’ material.
PRETTY WHEN YOU CRY
Continuing Del Rey’s bae upset, ‘Pretty When You Cry’ is all about Lana’s drug addicted boyfriend who would rather get high than sleep with his lady. A return to that beloved heroin chic sound.
MONEY POWER GLORY
Acts like Lamb, Portishead and Massive Attack aren’t really the kind of parallels you would make with Del Rey, but in the instance of ‘Money Power Glory’, she’s never sounded more like them. Her big, operatic scenery is still there but the electronics play as much of a part in this wonderful creation as the truly stunning vocal delivery. Singing of a bitter divorce, Lana proclaims she wants every shred of her ex partner’s Money, Power and Glory. “I wanna take you for all that you got. Hallelujah. I’m gonna take them for all that they’ve got.”
FUCKED MY WAY UP TO THE TOP
The second best song on Ultraviolence, Del Rey sings viscously of a fellow woman in pop. Who is she singing about? Can we guess? Regardless of the gossip a song like this will encourage, this is one of the most powerful and genius moments in Lana’s discography. “I need you baby like I breathe you baby, I need you baby, More! More! More! More!” Radio might not want to play it, but ‘Fucked My Way Up to the Top’ would be Splinters’ choice for next single, no question.
A proper, piano-led tear-jerker. Another highlight.
THE OTHER WOMAN
Closing the album with a cover of the Nina Simone classic, Del Rey delicately sings the story of two women – a wife and a mistress, and the one man they both love. Tragic and heartbreaking, Lana’s distant vocal almost excels Simone’s own 1959 version.
Make no mistake – this album is darker than most in the market today and, for a pop star of Lana’s calibre, it’s a surprise to hear what is essentially an entire album full of ballads. Lana’s particular blend of depression is certainly an acquired taste, but the sheer beauty of her songwriting and delicate production on Ultraviolence makes her an acquired taste worth spending your money on.
The Final Score: 9.5/10.
Written by Adem Ali