With her last album Born To Die receiving very mixed reviews, it would be understandable if Lana Del Rey (born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant) was a little nervous approaching the release of her latest record. However, with critics stamping the album with an average of four out of five stars, worrying may be a waste of time.
Following Born To Die’s slick, sassy, hip hop-inspired aesthetic, Ultraviolence carries on the idea of Lana writing in character; more specifically, a tortured soul with a fetish for cigarettes, red dresses and a bad-to-the-bone boyfriend. Title track Ultraviolence perfectly encapsulates these themes, with Lana’s gravelly, smoky voice crooning along to the lines I can hear sirens/He hit me and it felt like a kiss. While the single’s lyrics can be read as glorifying domestic violence and violence within relationships, the track continues with I will do anything for you, babe/And you’re my cult leader, highlighting the idea that these types of relationships – which can lead to violence – completely brainwash the people involved, with the firm belief that they’re meant to be together. This theme is one that reoccurs time and again in Del Rey’s work, with past tracks including Video Games and National Anthem picking up on the idea of intoxicating, dangerous love.
And, much like Born To Die, Del Rey’s motifs of all-encompassing romance or unrequited feelings are the undercurrent tying each song to the next. While opening track Cruel World, upbeat Brooklyn Baby and Money Power Glory see Lana shake off her relationship troubles, her lyrics are what brings the album together. While Cruel World sees her lament “Share my body and my mind with you/That’s all over now”, Brooklyn Baby sees her pay homage to her home city of New York, chanting “I’m churning out novels like Beat poetry on amphetamines/Yeah my boyfriend’s pretty cool but he’s not as cool as me/I’m a Brooklyn baby.” However, Ultraviolence isn’t all about liquor, riding in fast cars and dancing the night away, as the second half of the record dives right into some rather melancholy moments, courtesy of Del Rey’s past experiences and her skills with a pen. Pretty When I Cry tells the story of a lover left behind when her partner succumbs to a drug addiction (“All those special times I spent with you, my love/It don’t mean shit compared to all your drugs”), while Old Money sees her reminisce on her youth and the influence of her parents. Closing track The Other Woman harks back to the jazz age, with trumpets and saxophones accompanying Lana’s cries of The other woman will spend her life alone, alone, perhaps hinting at an experience she’s had herself.
While the 11-track record sees each song played out in a similar tone, Del Rey’s biggest achievement is the strength in her vocals. Although deemed monotonous and dull by many critics, Lana sticks to her trademark style of deep melodies and lullaby lifts, similar to her The Great Gatsby soundtrack single Young And Beautiful, with it clear she’s developed and honed her skills since its release. The album really reminds me of a classic film soundtrack but so did her past record, perhaps highlighting that that’s her style…or perhaps the only way she can make music? Has she got more to give? I’d like to hope so.
Review by Jazmine Bradley