Lana Del Rey's Retro, Western, Death-Defying "Ultraviolence"

A review of Lana Del Rey’s retro, Western, death-defying “Ultraviolence”

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Complex Original

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“The power of youth is on my mind,” is Lana Del Rey’s understatement, ten tracks deep, of her third album’s gist. “I’m talking about my generation.” 

Luckily, she's adored by that very same generation of Tumblr gods and goddesses who launched her stardom in 2012, on the strength of her Interscope debut single, "Video Games" and chaser hits "Blue Jeans" and "National Anthem." Two years later, Lana Del Rey is singing to a generation that's quietly anticipated her return to brooding form. And given the common critical derision of her aggressive pop aspiration and brash songwriting on Born to Die, surely she's savoring her evident creative growth as a sort of revenge.

This time around, lead Black Keys virtuoso Dan Auerbach steers Lana from the late-’80s break beats and Kanye-ripe samples of Born to Die, to this desert soundscape, where real guitars twang, where real drums buckle and thrash. Her voice blossoms but never without wilting thereafter. “West Coast,” the first single, warps time, space, and sobriety with a bit of time signature funkery a la Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song.” Beyond California, Ultraviolence longs for retreat and return to Las Vegas and Detroit, a nostalgia that’s not quite pointless or for its own sake: that mid-century glory has run its course, the past is dead, love is dead, everything dies, the end.

Ultraviolence is a blues affair, with moody innuendo spilling bloody and bold as the opening sequence to a vintage Bond saga. The album, more intimate than its predecessor, serializes an avid lover’s struggles with money, trust, expectations, and Other Women. This is the Marlboro-smoky backseat of a joyride that’s somehow turned to fists and tears; Ultraviolence is drunk driving.

Lana’s blues is hubris, scorn, booze, love, infatuation; repeat. Homegirl is one forlorn tumbleweed. Alternatively, homegirl is Dorothy Parker, a wit despite heartbreak and despair. As trollish as the track titles suggest, the album is confrontational, empowered piss-taking. “Brooklyn Baby,” the latest single, is duly aware and effacing in its naive celebration of beat poetry, hydroponic weed, and updo feathers; there’s goo-goo, gaa-gaa on the track in case you weren’t sure. “They say I’m too dumb to see.” (“sing”?) “They judge me like a picture book: / by the colors, like they forgot [how] to read.” The paranoia and abandon of “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry" is followed by the dry-eyed sarcasm of “Money Power Glory.” Tracking to Lana's sway from lover to fighter to blue again, there's a clear melodic bridge between the title track and “Fucked My Way Up To the Top,” a wondrously petty anthem that’s Ultraviolence’s rightful orgasm.

In her recent interviews, Lana’s insisted that her narrative ends at track eleven, her saloon-sway cover of Nina Simone’s “The Other Woman.” The rendition is a tad rote but brief, leading into the exhausted wisdom of “Black Beauty,” the strong first of four bonus tracks. There’s but one misstep via the incongruous “Florida Kilos” and its “yayo, yayo” hook. For its official runtime, however, Ultraviolence runs on sure sturdy rails, so far as its narrative and stages of grief are concerned.

Born To Die was an unforeseen pop songstress bleeding the zeitgeist dry; Ultraviolence is her dedication to “the freedomland of the 70s,” a decade for which she wasn’t even alive. “My sparrow blue,” wrote (in cursive, no doubt) no other megastar in this Year Of The 96-Inch Monitor. Lana Del Rey dims the lights. Cuz she is yo jazz singer. And your cult leader.

RELATED: Lana Del Rey: Can She Live? (2012 Cover Story & Gallery)
RELATED: Watch Lana Del Rey's Video for "West Coast"
RELATED: Listen to Lana Del Rey's "Brooklyn Baby"

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