Lana Del Rey has always been an interesting person to me particularly because it’s like watching a Shakespearean-like tragedy in technicolor. She manages to put the ugliness of life in a juxtaposition to be something beautiful. She’s part heroine, but part self destructive force. It’s like watching a tornado. It’s devastating and even fizzles out, but there’s a fascinating process in how it comes together. There were many things brewing before the release of Ultraviolence. Lana originally stated that she would never record a follow up to her critically acclaimed released, Born to Die. Unstated medical programs that plagued her through her 2012 touring cycle and in a recent interview with a proclamation that she wanted to “die already”, we managed to receive an album that plays as an extremely cold and unadulterated companion piece to her earlier album.
Ultraviolence remind me of acts in a play as I listened to it. There’s a constant motif of sarcastic sadness within the work, where the songs almost serve as instances in which Lana is recalling memories of how love and life can go bad. Yet, there’s a certain redeeming quality of sadness. Singer/guitarist of The Black Keys, Dan Auerbach produced much of the album and the toned down, more guitar driven tracks. It pays homage to the psychedelic tracks of the 1960’s that you can get lost in. Any fans that are looking foran upbeat sing-along track reminiscent of “National Anthem” off of Born to Die need to not look here. This is meant for an introspective and almost melancholy musical experience.
The album runs with a theme of bad men and women who are either in compromising situations or looking for a vindictive edge. “Cruel World” sets the tone as it almost plays like our tragic heroine is breathing a sigh of relief: “Shared my body and my mind with you/that’s all over now”. Those particular lyrics are a concurrent theme that runs beneath every nook and cranny of this body of work. The woman within the album is to blame for all the situations she’s been in, but without them life would be meaningless. “Ultraviolence” and “Sad Girl” are two sides of the same coin in which there’s an abusive relationship vs. not being a man’s first choice.
One of the main issues I have with the album is the sequencing of the tracks. The album tells a Marilyn Monroe time story of a girl falls who for a guy that is clearly wrong in every way (“Shades of Cool, Brooklyn Baby”). Ultraviolence may have been better served if it went in order of the actual story that Lana was depicting as it may sound disjointed. As the title of the album tells us, maybe it’s the violence that shook the emotions of these songs and the listener has to put them together like puzzle pieces. Ultraviolence also serves as pieces of a puzzle that we have recognized before. While the lyrics are stronger, the themes are all too familiar.
“Money, Power, Glory” and “Fucked My Way to the Top” are songs that depict a woman who is using her sexually to get back at the men that wronged her in the past. It’s another underlying motif where women use whatever means to their advantage in a world where men may not recognize the love that these women have for them. “Old Money” summed up the album and the image of Lana Del Rey for me. It is known that she is the daughter of the internet entrepreneur and has felt some ridicule for that and her rather malaise-like singing style. It’s a classic story of a girl who feels alone and falls in love with classic imagery and characters layered with a piano and orchestra arrangement straight out of a final act of a movie where the hero perishes.
Is this the real Lana Del Rey? To be honest, I’m not sure. There are a lot of smoke and mirrors when it comes to the music industry these days. “Lana Del Rey” could be the mask that Elizabeth Grant wears to get lost in to state the real pain she feels for the past transgressions she felt previously. Ultraviolence is a collection of past lives and battles scars. Scars that I hope heal in time with themes that grow as well.