Having exploded with 2012's 'Born To Die' giving mainstream pop a more alternative figure, Lana Del Ray is back with her third album 'Ultraviolence'. Given the mass success of its predecessor which was loved by commercial pop fans just as much as it was indie fans, can album three live up to the buzz of 'Born To Die'?
'Ultraviolence' gets off to a mixed start. Opener 'Cruel World' has a cool 60s/70s psychedelic vibe to it with bright, but lonely guitar chords. Lana Del Rey's unmistakable voice strengthens the song with her haunting tone singing lines with lyrical themes of freedom, e.g. 'Finally happy now you're gone'. While it's not overly upbeat sonically, the lyrics remain positive. It's a decent chilled out number, but quite light, with little to keep your mind from wandering. The fault is in that it's perhaps too long, as it feels like its run its course by the forth minute out of six. The title track has strong strings, but obvious piano keys, and the minimal drum beat increases the morbidity that Del Rey was clearly going for. Lyrically, the chorus is weakened by the over-repeated title and the Madonna - 'Vogue'-esque spoken word part does not fit in the rest of it; these two small things make the track sound rushed and spoil the overall feel.
The first major strength on the album comes in the shape of 'Shades Of Cool', with its guitar riff that sounds like a laid back rendition of the James Bond theme. The chorus is a good percentage more lush, with Del Rey's voice more angelic and some subtle strings coming into the mix. Unlike 'Cruel World', this is relaxing, but actually has some interesting ideas at play to prevent you from drifting off completely. The sinister, not too in-your-face guitar solo definitely suggests a Portishead influence.
'Brooklyn Baby' is another great song in terms of the instrumentation with gentle guitars in contrast to the low electronics, adding dynamics. The vocals and lyrics are quite hit and miss though, and Del Rey is randomly wailing at one point. Lyrics like, 'Well my boyfriend's in the band' are unnecessarily repeated and don't work well in the chorus. 'West Coast' is sonically very interesting with a tame didgeridoo sound effect and delayed post-rock guitars that go hand in hand with Del Rey's misty vocals. Del Rey's voice also throws some curveballs into this tune, taking a quicker and sharper tone in both mood and time signatures.
'Sad Girl' is decent lyrically, as it gives a unique perspective of being a mistress, and glorifies the frowned upon lifestyle choice in the daring lyrics, 'Being a mistress on the side, it might not appeal to fools like you'. However, like much of 'Ultraviolence', it suffers from being too long. When it gets to the final repeated 'I'm a sad girl, I'm a bad girl', there's no detectable musical changes to increase the momentum and thus excitement which the track deserves. 'Money Power Glory' delivers one of the biggest weaknesses with the line 'I want money, power and glory' contradicting her moody sound. A line like that should be delivered with determination or anticipation for wealth and fame, but Del Rey is singing it like a shy choir girl, where success is yet to cross her mind in her life.
Album closer 'The Other Woman' is the brightest tune of all of them, with romantic strings that paint a picture of sailing down a peaceful Italian river. It's a nice change in the album's mood, and closes it suitably, though not brilliantly. The song does feel like a conclusion, with Del Ray singing of this 'other woman' not truly having the love of the man she's seeing, continuing from the theme of 'Sad Girl', however this dark album should've ended tragically, or at the very least with more light preceding the ending.
All in all, 'Ultraviolence' is a mixed bag. There are some great songs on it such as 'Shades Of Cool' and 'West Coast' as well as some bad ones like 'Money Power Glory' and 'Ultraviolence'. Nearly every track on this album could've been improved, even if it's just a minor tweak. Some more focus could've helped this record go from being average, to excellent.
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