Sunday, 20 July 2014

''Ultraviolence'' Lana Del Ray - A Review

Following a polarizing reaction to Lizzy Grant's calculated transformation into retro indie queen Lana Del Ray on sophomore record Born To Die in 2012, the songwriter returns with Ultraviolence, a name that will resonate quickly with cinema fans worldwide for its association with Stanley Kubrick's endlessly controversial, artistic masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. It's a title that suits Del Ray perfectly from the get go, representing her theatrical style, artistic vision and undeniable ambition while also signifying a growing understanding of her own niche and kind of fan base, meaning that hopefully those who enjoyed the majestic sadness of Born To Die will be in for a more focused, progressive look into the world of Lana Del Ray upon entering her third album.

Opening numbers ''Cruel World'' and ''Shades Of Cool'' kick off proceedings in typical fashion with a series of laid back, slow burning guitar laden tracks that are dominated by Del Ray's all consuming lyrics and delivery as she breathes hooks like ''Shared my body and my mind with you/That's all over now'' on top of throwaway references to sixties pop classics and icons in between. That's particularly evident on title track ''Ultraviolence'', which introduces strings backed by slow drums and repeatedly refers back to The Crystals 1962 track ''He Hit Me (And It Left Like A Kiss)'' in an early standout moment.

Lead single ''West Coast'' was released back in April and although not particularly chart viable, it's thematically representative of the album and Lana as a whole. A better single choice would have been ''Brooklyn Baby'' which washes over the listener with a wonderfully atmospheric guitar and vocal duo. A striking thing about Ultraviolence before its release was the intriguing set of titles found in the tracklist with Del Ray playing up to the perception of her as some kind of stereotype on tracks like ''Sad Girl'' and ''Pretty When You Cry'', but while these could come off as self parody if not executed correctly, they both standout due to the continually impressive duo of Lana's vocal and the electric guitar which has replaced the piano ballad sound of Born To Die in favour of a sleek sixties jazz band vibe that when at its most evocative can penetrate the minds eye with visions of a smokey downtown club in LA.

Another set of curiously titled tunes come next with ''Money Power Glory'' unfortunately marking the only real disappointment of the album as it fails to deliver anything more than a hollow anthem which does no favours to Del Ray's public perception if it was presumably intended as an ironic gesture to doubting critics. ''Fucked My Way To The Top'' is an immediate improvement however, delivering venomous lyrics and an ice cold chorus aimed at an unspecified artist with whom Del Ray is currently feuding, but the best moment of the album is the most delicate- ''Old Money'' is the long awaited ballad of the album in the vein of ''Video Games''. It's a beautifully dark piano led trance with complimentary strings and sorrowful vocals you could drown in as Del Ray begs for the return of a former lover. It's the oldest song on the record according to her having been in the works for five years, and upon listening you'll surely agree that it was time worth waiting. Following this climatic moment of beauty we are ushered out by a refreshingly bluesy, perfectly fitting Nina Simone cover in ''The Other Woman'', a vintage outro that suits the album no end and brings the tracklist to a close on the exact right note.

All considered, the most immediately striking thing about Ultraviolence is its consistency as it continually engages from start to finish, unlike Born To Die at times which had the tendency to venture into ill advised electro lite territory. Ultraviolence is Del Ray honing her sound to perfection as she drowns us in her ultra stylistic brand of sadness while embracing her movie star persona all the while. Detractors who complain of a lack of legitimacy would be wise to view Lana from a new perspective now and consider the likes of Ziggy Stardust before analyzing her again. Like Bowie so many times in the past, Lizzy Grant is playing a part, and on Ultraviolence she's playing it to perfection, giving her character a new level of depth with a set of beautifully twisted melodies.

There are some who would judge this to be more of the same as Born To Die and while that wouldn't be totally wrong, it's never a bad thing- the most important feature of Ultraviolence is how carefully yet purposely Del Ray is striding forward, as she progresses into a complete version of herself on this undoubtedly stronger effort. Ultraviolence proves itself part of a greater evolution for Del Ray, ensuring there will be a great deal more to come in future from this most divisive of artists.


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