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Lana Del Rey Releases "Ultraviolence"

The singer's second album offers bold, dramatic nostalgia

By Ellie Hudd
On June 19, 2014

 

(PHOTO: Polydor Records) Lana Del Rey takes on a darker,
more melancholic sound with her second album "Ultraviolence."

After a series of false starts, leaked tracks, and tantalizing singles, Lana Del Rey released her second album "Ultraviolence" on June 16th. The album, originally planned for a May 1st release, was plagued by complications including the leak of would-be lead single "Black Beauty." However, for a singer who has been victimized by leaked tracks more frequently than perhaps any other (there are 91 Lana Del Rey leaks online to date), Del Rey managed to keep the rest of the songs on the album firmly in her grasp, releasing them at a languid, if erratic, pace in the month leading up to the release date. 

Del Rey is no less esoteric an artist than ever, but this album was well worth the wait for her devoted fans, who appreciate Del Rey as one of the few remaining popular acts unwilling to settle for four-chord verse-and-hook pop concoctions. The many vibes Del Rey offered on her 2012 debut "Born to Die," from the sonic antiquity that was "Video Games" to the coy, slightly gritty "Diet Mountain Dew" to the symphonic hip-hop number "Lolita,” were not so much a calculated variety (though a consistently well-executed one) as a search for artistic cohesiveness. Clearly, however, the experimentation paid off, as she has found her realm in nostalgic, symphonic ballads that had long ceased to exist before her arrival on the music scene; “Ultraviolence” is, consistently, most similar in sound to "Born to Die's" "Video Games" and "Million Dollar Man."

            "West Coast," the first single to be officially released, is an obvious hit. The line "I can see my baby swingin' / his Parliament's on fire and his hands are up" is mirrored in spirit by the sudden languidness of the chorus itself. Del Rey's hushed vocals seem to tell the listener a secret about what's going on "down on the west coast." By contrast, "Florida Kilos" is Del Rey's version of upbeat, insomuch as it loosens up on the reservation and subtlety of the rest of the album. The cheeky, tropical anthem reads like a satirical take on the airbrushed vacation-guide depiction of Florida.  

            "F****d my Way to the Top" is arguably the major highlight of the album, appropriately seated smack in the middle. The song is reminiscent of a James Bond theme; the overtness of its sultry themes is mirrored by the gauzy production, forming a melody that seems to suggest that there's more to this story than Del Rey is letting on. The insistent "this is my show" refrain is perhaps one of the strongest moments on the album; it rings true of the album itself, which does indeed draw all eyes to the enigmatic Del Rey. 

            "Brooklyn Baby," meanwhile, tries a bit too hard to invoke the sense of nostalgia that usually comes effortlessly to Del Rey. The loosely-strung-together chorus is reminiscent in voice and production of the early work of Mazzy Star, but the verses are melodically hard to follow. Del Rey's insistent "I'm a Brooklyn baby" refrain is an interesting part of the album, though, as it is perhaps the best summation of her struggles as a public figure; the majority of personal criticism of Del Rey touches upon the contrast between her self-named "gangster Nancy Sinatra" or "Lolita lost in the hood" image and her privileged Lake Placid upbringing as Lizzy Grant. 

            Finally, the songs "Old Money," "The Other Woman," "Shades of Cool," and "Is This Happiness" further confirm, through their melodies and the passion of Del Rey's vocals, that Del Rey feels a unique sense of connectedness to the most cinematic moments of the '50s and '60s. These songs will come off as heavy for the listener enmeshed in the era of variations on the same simple party-pop radio hit, but for those curious about this disarmingly raw intruder on the mainstream music scene, these songs are where the story is. These lush ballads belong on a record player; they serve as a musical representation of Del Rey’s “born in the wrong era” ethos, but come off as more authentic than the earnest yet forcefully vintage-sounding “Million Dollar Man” and The Great Gatsby’s somewhat obvious “Young and Beautiful.”

            On "Born to Die," Del Rey -- then brand new to the scene -- let listeners into her search for musical footing. On "Ultraviolence," she has found that footing, and despite the dark themes on many of the tracks, she has clearly found her niche. On this album, Del Rey shares her struggle to find a place in the world as a deeply emotional individual. Del Rey holds nothing back with this music, and the resulting album is a raw portrayal of her deepest, most complex self. 

9/10

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