Album Reviews

Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

on June 17, 2014, 12:02am
lana del rey ultraviolence A
Release Date
June 17, 2014
Label
Interscope/Polydor UK
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd
Buy it on amazon

Ten years ago, I hung a poster on my wall that read, “Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultraviolence and Beethoven.” It was a replica of a vintage ad for the film A Clockwork Orange, purchased in a plastic laminate from my local punk supply store. Kubrick’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel goes like this: A 15-year-old serial robber and rapist named Alex murders a woman, then opts for psychological rehabilitation over prison time. The rehab accidentally conditions him to hate his favorite music, destroying even the innocent parts of his identity. The story concludes that in order to be fully human, men must be free to choose to murder. Never mind the collateral damage of, say, dead women. You can’t prevent criminals; you can only punish them.

Lana Del Rey appears at her most complicated on her second album, Ultraviolence. On the title song, she sings from the throes of a physically abusive relationship. She repeats the title of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”, a song written in 1962 by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, recorded by The Crystals and Phil Spector, and later disowned by King. Del Rey sings about a man who nicknames her “poison” and “deadly nightshade,” then hits her in a way that makes her suspect it’s a sign of true love. She hears sirens, either the kind that signify emergency or the kind that lure you to be dashed against the shore. She hears violins and violence in the same word. “I could have died right then ’cause he was right beside me,” she sings, her voice multi-tracked over itself. Died of love, or died of him? Is there a difference?

Aided by the production talent of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence presents an endlessly fascinating cornucopia of dysfunction. Del Rey’s voice flourishes. Inside the album’s big, vintage swing, she sings herself into places that Born to Die, with its pop veneer, couldn’t touch. Her lyrics supply a wonderful foil to The Black Keys’ most recent outing, Turn Blue, which ended on the conclusion that “all the good women are gone.” Damn right, Del Rey seems to sneer. Here’s a gallery of the bad ones.

Both Del Rey and Auerbach draw upon signifiers of 20th century culture, but their motivations for looking back seem miles apart. The Black Keys find comfort in the 1970s. They’ve adopted a mode of playing and writing that’s well-trod and easy to recall fondly. Ultraviolence, meanwhile, sounds nostalgic. It doesn’t loop back through the roles played by last century’s women singers, though Del Rey wields classic femininity as an aesthetic weapon. Here, she dons a genre that once framed an idealized vision of female longing and fills it with all those other women: the women implied by the songs that men were singing about, the women that served as fodder for generations of male heartbreak.

Shedding the tight choruses and hip-hop samples that propelled her debut, Del Rey now plunges fully into the 21st century impulse to fetishize 20th century culture. “They say I’m too young to love you,” she simpers on “Brooklyn Baby”. At first it sounds like she’s talking about an older man, but it turns out she’s talking about a whole bunch of them: Lou Reed, the Beats, the first generation of jazz musicians, and so on. The song’s not about Brooklyn 30 years ago, that long-gone, ideal Brooklyn where artists lived fast and cheap. No, it’s about Brooklyn now, a confused, living museum that honors its own geographical memory through a bizarre cultural cannibalism. “I’m a Brooklyn baby,” she sings. “If you don’t get it, then forget it.” This is by far the most millennial song ever written.

(Read: Lana Del Rey Is More Interested In Space Than Feminism And That’s Okay)

Throughout Ultraviolence, marks of old culture surface and then disappear. Chevy Malibus course down the California coast, women wear pearl necklaces and curlers in their hair, and even Hemingway shows up briefly alongside Burgess. Del Rey controls their orbit like she’s injecting herself into all the art that she consumed long after it had faded from the zeitgeist. And she is. Her re-imagining of the past with her at its center comes out of necessity, not comfort. All those women that rock stars sang about? They were real people, and we never heard their side of the story. Del Rey sings in that void. Thanks to her words, her voice, and her inscrutable presence, she gives those women inner life.

“I’m fucking crazy,” she insists on “Cruel World”. “I want your money, power, and glory,” she demands on “Money Power Glory”. “I fucked my way up to the top,” she brags on a song titled, naturally, “Fucked My Way Up to the Top”. “This is my show.” In a series of delightfully Kanye-reminiscent maneuvers, she preempts the worst of her critics.

Del Rey braves huge and often absurd gestures, but my God, does she sound like she means them. The chorus of “Money Power Glory” arcs with her most triumphant melody yet, while “Shades of Cool” and “West Coast” shiver with heartbroken soprano. She’s never sung like this before. The characters and artifacts that surround these songs feel artificial, like stock props, but the music that Del Rey pulls them through splits them open, shakes them to life. She walks that tough line of high melodrama, demanding emotional investment in stories that nakedly display their own falseness. The way she sings, you start to guess that there’s real love somewhere inside all that gloss.

That love seeps hardest from one of the trickiest songs to scan, the slow-burning, string-laden “Old Money”. The second-to-last track on the album, it hits the same sweet pathos of “Young and Beautiful”, Del Rey’s recent contribution to the soundtrack for Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby. Maybe “Old Money” takes place inside the same fiction. The way it places wealth next to loss, material possession next to emotional lack, I think it might. It sounds like it’s sung through Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s lost love whose story was only ever told by the men around her. In a way, Del Rey lends even more life to that character than Carey Mulligan did on camera. “I’ll run to you, I’ll run to you/ I’ll run, run, run,” she sings in a timbre that by itself crystallizes Daisy’s paradoxical desire and warm, subtle sadness, a sadness that F. Scott Fitzgerald used to symbolize an American betrayal that’s still going on.

(Read: Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness” Is A Fake Radio Hit)

I keep looking deeper into Ultraviolence because I want to understand what Del Rey is trying to understand. I want to know why the culture around me keeps grasping at past emblems — why advertising for 40-year-old movies still decorates college dorm rooms, why I can make my iPhone look like a Polaroid, why 90,000 people sing along to roots rock at Bonnaroo. I want to know why we reuse these tropes uncritically, reaching for analog without asking what gives it power. Lana Del Rey looks at the imagery we keep and tries to find what’s missing in it. What do we avoid looking at when we buy pictures of Marilyn Monroe, not thinking of why Norma Jeane Mortenson died so young? Whose stories do we allow to remain subdued? Ultraviolence rages to fill the vacancies behind the icons, to imagine the sorrow and desperation and flat-out anger of the women still cast in men’s spotlights.

A Clockwork Orange used the word “ultraviolence” to refer to gang beatings that lately seem to count as just regular violence. I’m not sure that’s what Del Rey is referring to here. She uses the word to sing about physical aggression, but the ultimate violence seems like it would be erasure, silencing, negation, the stuff you don’t hear about because it’s an absence by nature. You can see it if you read On the Road or listen to Berlin and try to imagine the inner lives of women who are mentioned in passing, who exist only to sculpt the stories of men.

That negative space is its own kind of violence. Lana Del Rey steps into the shadows it leaves. She has power there, whispering old secrets, giving voice to characters who never got to speak for themselves. She counters a world in which “rape” is not even considered in the same category as “ultraviolence” by dragging up the second word and blaring it in capital letters below a photo of herself gazing enigmatically at the camera. She does her violence to the last century’s culture as we’ve rendered it in pixels the second time around. She is exactly the villain our history needs.

Essential Tracks: “West Coast”, “Money Power Glory”, and “Old Money”

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20 comments

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RESEARCH BEFORE YOU POST!
July 18, 2014 at 2:28 pm

That was her original name. It was changed to Baker after she was born. GOOGLE is your friend:)

Jimmi Shrode (@jimmishrode)
July 7, 2014 at 12:15 am

Good review but you need to get your icons straightened out. Norma Jean Baker bcame Marilyn Monroe. Not sure who this Norma Jean Mortenson you are referring to is.

Stefan
July 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

I actually came back to this page today because due to reading this review I was intrigued to give Ultraviolence an earnest attempt. Before reading the review I had pretty much made up my mind regarding the million and a half reasons I would never listen to this album. However, after reading this I did listen to it and I love it! In fact, it’s incredible! It’s so easy on the surface to write off the album and Lana due to the song titles, album, art, and initial visuals it gives you no indication that you will get anything different from the train wreck embarrassment of Born to Die. Ultraviolence is a rare album that comes armed with all of its intentions and motifs bared on its sleeve for you to judge and know exactly what you will get and then delivers all of these intentions and motifs in such a committed and honed way that you cant help but be impressed by the exact things you felt you could never be impressed about. Great review and thanks for not allowing me to pass up on the album!

Rosie
June 23, 2014 at 3:49 pm

You literally captured her perfectly. I was totally and completely blown away at your grasp of her music. You helped me see the things I missed whilst listening. Bravo.

Not Ryan Gosling (@TheFakeGos)
June 21, 2014 at 10:40 am

I had the same Gatsby thought!! And, subsequently, I combed through the whole movie and made a music video for it! https://vimeo.com/98661009

jamie
June 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm

I will say this about the review – it got me excited to hear an album I planned on avoiding.

Megan
June 18, 2014 at 9:35 pm

Fantastic review! The cultural questioning and how it affects Rey’s music and persona is very well written. Loved it!

brian
June 18, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Magnificent.

I originally read this article on the Time magazine website and it led me here.
I pray Lana will take notice of this review.

Finally, someone who gets it.

i Multiscreen (@iMultiscreen)
June 17, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Nice review, commenting on the writing, poetry, and persona Lana Del Rey invented, instead of the public perception or exterior things! The music draws you in, but can you really say it is just the music? Watching today’s release of Shades of Cool video, I think it’s more the whole package, of the attractive, secure Lana’s ability to play femme fatale n her own videos, and dispel the myth of trophy girlfriend/boyfriend happiness, while acknowledging the cultural references of success in the United States, and Hollywood in particular. As I was reading this, I wished you could add your review of the new video.

Truth.
June 17, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Flawless Review. Music>Gossp, Modern Foolishness

Stefan
June 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm

This is why nobody takes Consequence of Sound seriously.

Truth.
June 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm

And I’m still wondering why your here, or bother to comment on the matter. Would you them glorify Beyonce’s twerking?

Stefan
July 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

What the hell? Another Stefan sullying my good name. This wasn’t me.

Leon
June 17, 2014 at 10:06 am

The review from NME nailed the album, this is on par with Lana masturbating over Kurt Cobain’s suicide note.

Anonymous
June 18, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Yes please

LD-ARE
June 17, 2014 at 9:44 am

You guys nailed this with the “A”. Lots of other reviews were premature leading up to todays release. This is an album you need to sit with for a minute and absorb. Yes, it’s Lana faire – but its definitely a departure from the previous album. Lots of layers and organic atmospheric touches.

Aaron Darc
June 17, 2014 at 5:59 am

This review is brilliant!

Lott
June 17, 2014 at 3:18 am

That’s the most sickening sentimental review I have read so far, it actually made me feel a bit ill.

ROB
June 17, 2014 at 2:39 am

This review was written exquisitely thought out. Kudos to you. I think you’re one of the reviewers that actually understood the music and artistry instead of the gossip surrounding it.

Thomas Hofheinz
June 17, 2014 at 1:31 am

Brilliant review. Thank you very much. It is the most insightful and accurate evaluation of Lana’s work around.

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