Lana Del Rey‘s last album was sweet. Sickly sweet. It was syrupy and viscous and while it was rich with luscious depth, it didn’t have much in the way of variety, or emotional variance. Her latest release, Ultraviolence, is still just as foggy and romantic, but has more elements (read: better production – thanks, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys!) that allows the accompaniments – from orchestral to reverb-laden guitar – to really stand out against Lana’s voice and add a 3-dimensional effect that was missing with her first release, Born to Die/Paradise.
The album opens with “Cruel World,” the longest song on the album, and a great indicator of some of the major departures from Lana Del Rey’s previous work. The breathiness and signature LDR effervescence is still present, along with her subject matter remaining somewhat consistent, but this time with a little more strength behind it and a whole lot more musical prowess.
Ultraviolence, as I mentioned, is still molasses when it comes to the viscosity of modern alternative pop. Her anachronistic tone fits perfectly alongside the sleepy ambience of droning bass guitars and a simplistic, slow percussive set. There are refreshing highlights of dirty, messy guitar solos, in “Shades of Cool,” but sprinkling some of that filth throughout the other rich, deeply emotional tunes could have added some “crunchiness” (I stole this brilliant phrase from my friend, Joshua Guerci!) and made some more tingles go up my spine. There’s a bit more guitar grittiness on the track, “Money Power Glory“, Del Rey’s reflection on her feelings as she exploded with popularity.
Listen to “Shades of Cool”:
Sadly, there was supposed to be a mildly hyped collaboration between Lana Del Rey and the infamous Lou Reed on this album, but he passed away the day that she arrived. It’s a cruel, cruel world. I was jazzed enough about the Dan Auerbach inclusion, having a Lou Reed cameo with the pop-noir starlet creation that is Lana Del Rey would have been… monumental. Instead, she pays tribute to her love for Lou in “Brooklyn Baby.”
Well my boyfriend’s in a band/
He plays guitar while I sing Lou Reed/
I’ve got feathers in my hair/
I get down to beat poetry
The track, “West Coast” – previously leaked – gives off a Tori Amos vibe that I never would have expected: a quick vibrato amongst rushed, staccato phrases and a building, melodic background. Lana, clearly a fan of vocal layering; a technique that her voice is perfect for, has much less of a L.A. ‘hood beauty aesthetic this time around. Instead of embodying the coy, untouchable siren of her first album as Lana Del Rey, she sounds like she’s looking directly into our eyes with Ultraviolence. The thuggish pretense has been dropped, and I’m pretty sure we’re just hearing Lana as a singer, songwriter, and artist.
See the video for West Coast:
“Sad Girl” is an appropriately smokey ballad, and no LDR album would be complete without something you could perform a depressing striptease to. Her airy sound and impressive vocal range add a layer of hyper-emotion to each of her tracks. In other interviews, she mentions how this album is largely a collection of moments she’s recanted as being exceptionally thrilling or captivating, and the 3-7 minutes she uses to express each is so much more effective on Ultraviolence, without the distraction of substandard production and babytalk on Born To Die.
Dan Auerbach didn’t actually join the album effort until it was “already finished,” but judging by Auerbach’s previous efforts and the new sounds of this album, he was essential to its individuality and hopefully success. Everything blends a little better, instruments aren’t fighting with Lana’s pleasingly shrill moments, and it certainly doesn’t conjure up homemade YouTube music videos with cartoon clips spliced in. This album shows the maturation and blossoming of Lana Del Rey’s style, and after a year that’s been extremely divisive as far as critics go, it’s going to be hard to undercut this or accuse any parties involved as lacking the chops to make it in the music industry.
“Fucked My Way To The Top” – wow, what a title. The song following it is predictably catty in nature, written by Lana about a female performer who first criticized Lana Del Rey’s vocal style, then “stole it” and became successful with it. Sarah Lewitinn, Music Director for Aritzia and SPIN & Fuse alumni, chose this track to play in Aritzia stores, having little to no idea how shoppers would feel about it. It’s a strong song, and Lana isn’t really hiding anything aside from the identity of her doppelgänger. This track is one of the most club-like song on the record, and I see many remixes in its future.
What I love about Lana Del Rey is her endlessly subtle drama. It’s ever-present in its consistency: each track is like its own movie, with a soundtrack, and an arch, and a conclusive ending. This album is nothing if not really listenable, no sound or vocal layer out of place. The collaboration of Del Rey, whoever her guitarist and orchestral members are (thanks, internet, for NOTHING), and the production of Dan Auerbach have created a complete idea of an album that will find its way onto playlists for years to come.