By Josh "The Bean" Bird
Ultraviolence is the third LP by Lana Del Rey, and the follow up to her hugely successful 2012 album Born to Die and its companion EP Paradise. Born to Die produced eight successful singles, and quickly established Del Rey as not only a standout performer, but a gifted songwriter. Ultraviolence certainly does have its share of good songs, and retains the overall dreamlike quality of her back catalogue.
Del Rey’s voice is as hypnotic as ever, her distinctive whispery vocals bringing an air of sensuality and melancholy to every track, but with louder, more passionate moments appearing frequently as well. Instrumentally, this album appears more varied than previous work. The huge, emotional string sections that were abundant on Born to Die are still here, but perhaps the most standout instrumentation on the album is the use of electric guitar, a mark of The Black Key’s Dan Auerbach’s production, and mostly played by the man himself. ‘Brooklyn Baby’ opens with a low-fi riff clearly inspired by the late Lou Reed, who is both mentioned in the chorus and was scheduled to actually perform on the song, but passed away days before the recording. ‘West Coast’, the album’s first single also contains a catchy and distinctive reverb-heavy guitar riff that conjures up images of the classic cool, relaxed lifestyle of the American west coast that the lyrics emulate.
The title of the album comes from Anthony Burgess’ infamous 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange, of course. Much like the story, about a young man with a passion for ‘ultra-violence’ in a dystopian future, this LP describes a dangerous lifestyle, but a magnetic one nonetheless. If there is a single overarching theme for Ultraviolence, it is undoubtedly that of abusive relationships, whether it be physical or emotional. This has drawn a fair amount of criticism to Del Rey, with accusations of the romanticisation of domestic violence and the influence that this might have to her younger female fans. Disappointingly, Del Rey dismissed feminism in an interview with The Fader this year, saying that she is ‘just not really that interested’. However, this does not mean that Lana is promoting the acceptance domestic violence in any way, only that she is more interested in storytelling than in exploring real issues, and sadly the submissive aspects of her narrative voice reflect what may be an honest attitude for women in such a position.
Another of the main criticisms that have been aimed at this album, and Del Rey as a performer, is that the themes of nostalgia in her songs are contrived and artificial. However, the album is not necessarily attempting to convey an image of a certain time or place, but rather a reflection on a time and place from a modern time. In addition, whilst it may be true that the stories told through Del Rey’s lyrics do feel somewhat manufactured, and the romanticism of the lyrics themselves forced at times, the emotion that has clearly driven her to weave these stories seems genuine, especially in light of her recent statements on the subject of her own depression.
Mainly, what Ultraviolence suffers from is a sense of unoriginality. However genuine the emotions expressed in her words are, the subjects of the songs and the lyrics themselves often feel clichéd. There are certain songs on the album which are weaker, as well, either due to forgettable melodies or uninteresting lyrics. The chorus of ‘Guns and Roses’ is fairly boring and a little irritating in its repetition, and feels generally uninspired.
However, musically, Ultraviolence has more high points than low, and whilst not as well-crafted or varied in subject matter as its predecessor, the relaxed and nostalgic tone makes for an enjoyable summer listen.