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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Lana Del Rey -- Ultraviolence

 photo UltraviolenceLDR_zps0b0feedc.png

After the critical and commercial success of the song "Video Games," Lana Del Rey seemed poised for a breakout. However, these things happened:
1. Some strange contingent of the Internet accused her of being a fraud. For some reason, the fact that "Lana Del Rey" is not Lizzie Grant's name is shocking to people. Not everyone gets to be born with a stage-ready name like "Madonna" or "Prince." Lana Del Rey sounds cool. Lizzie Grant as a performer's name doesn't really stand out. People also speculated about and complained that Del Rey came from a wealthy background, was a record-label creation, and on, and on, and on. If her songs are good, who cares. I meant to end that sentence with a period.  
2. Something really weird happened to her lips. Like she found the hive Winnie the Pooh gets all his honey from, and stuck her face in it. Or maybe botched botox. Again, does this have anything to do with her actual music? No.
3. She appeared on SNL, sounded differently from most people, and for some reason, the same contingent of Internet haters jumped all over her for being weird. The backlash was so ridiculous, Kristin Wiig had to perform a skit the next week lampooning the fact that people are mean to people who are different. Again, if Lana Del Rey is weird, but her songs are good, who cares? In fact, if she is weird, and she isn't forcing you to interact with her at gunpoint, who cares?
4. After all this fuss and drama, her major label debut, Born to Die, was finally released in 2012, and it is...lackluster. Unfortunately, Born to Die lacks cohesion, focus, and just doesn't work as a whole. Del Rey is still an engaging vocalist, but that album just doesn't seem to suit her. It sounds too new. I write all this, but Born to Die still ending up being the number five best-selling album in the world in 2012. Artistically, though, it falls short.
Hey, the list is done, let's drop the large font.
In regard to #4, Del Rey either realized this and strove to create something better, or has simply gotten better with time. Her latest album, Ultraviolence, suits her perfectly. With that said, what suits Del Rey certainly ain't a lot of people's cup of tea.
Where Born to Die was all over the place, Ultraviolence's twelve tracks are remarkably cohesive in sound and theme. That cohesion may be what turns off some listeners. Opener, "Cruel World," introduces Ultraviolence's sonic palette. Woozy strings (often synthesized), spy-guitar, thick atmosphere, and a slow, heavy, rolling molasses river of rhythm. This is the ideal background for Del Rey's seventy-five years too late vocals. She sounds at home alternately belting out notes, cooing like a dove, and playing husky-voiced lounge singer. Del Rey has a thing, and if you like that thing, Ultraviolence gives it to you in its prime. Lyrically, each song revolves around a particular woman (and perhaps particular versions of Del Rey) in relation to a man. The men in the songs are generally powerful, charismatic, and deeply flawed. Generally, the female character tries to fix the man, but can't. Sometimes, as in "Money Power Glory," the female has more sinister designs. At times, there's a certain vulgarity about things, and in small doses, that fits Del Rey, as well.
Del Rey closes everything out with a cover of Nina Simone's "The Other Woman," putting a nice period on everything with a sad saxophone solo, and the lyrics:

The other woman has time to manicure her nails
The other woman is perfect where her rival fails
And she's never seen with pin curls in her hair anywhere

The other woman enchants her clothes with French perfume
The other woman keeps fresh cut flowers in each room
There are never toys that scatter everywhere

And when her old man comes to call
He finds her waiting like a lonesome queen
'Cause to be by her side is such a change from old routine

But the other woman will always cry herself to sleep
The other woman will never have his love to keep
And as the years go by the other woman will spend her life alone, alone

After all the glamor of the previous ten songs, "The Other Woman" lets the air out nicely.
Del Rey worked with Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) on this album, and rumor has it they butted heads often, and pushed each other hard. They should work together again.

2014 Interscope
1. Cruel World 6:39
2. Ultraviolence 4:11
3. Shades of Cool 5:42
4. Brooklyn Baby 5:51
5. West Coast 4:16
6. Sad Girl 5:17
7. Pretty When You Cry 3:54
8. Money Power Glory 4:30
9. Fucked My Way Up to the Top 3:32
10. Old Money 4:31
11. The Other Woman 3:01

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