“Share my body and my mind with you/That’s all over now,” Lana Del Rey sighs on “Cruel World,” the opening track on her sophomore album “Ultraviolence.” The reverb-soaked guitar immediately wipes away any sense of the present, and throws the listener into Del Rey’s idyllic fantasy of ‘70s rock. The record is a dark and gritty exploration of the singer’s deepest introspection, and flaunts self-deprecating pop-rock steeped in nostalgia and melancholy.
Released in the summer of 2014, “Ultraviolence” follows Del Rey’s career-defining debut “Born To Die” with a much more mature rock-inspired sound. String arrangements and hip-hop tinged beats are replaced with a much more human feeling electric guitar solos and banging drums. After one listen, you can tell that this music was made with a human-touch, not by a computer.
Lyrically, Del Rey wastes no time confessing her masochistic tendencies in relationships–as she admits to loving the painful just as much as the good. The title track packs all of the perfect elements on the album into a short four minutes and eleven seconds. “Jim told me that, he hit me and it felt like a kiss,” she confesses. Even when detailing pain and abuse, she comes across as hyper-aware of her patterns, which offers a sense of trust between her and the listener. When the bridge arrives, she sing-speaks “Yo soy la princesa, comprende mis white lines.” Her Spanish-spoken lines (yes, there’s more than one) prompt a double-take and a scratch on the head, but add quirk to the slow-burning refrains. Toward the end of the song, she coos “Cause I'm your jazz singer and you're my cult leader,” painting her ideology around romance, and the retro motifs of 70’s communes, and even casting herself as the bride of the “cult leader” in the music video. In these vivid fantasies, the core themes are relatable for most anyone and because of this you’re able to step into her shoes. Even if you haven’t experienced exactly what she’s singing about, you can easily connect to her expressions of hopelessness, longing, and infatuation.
Much of the magic of “Ultraviolence” comes from its trance-like melodies and instrumentation. Stacked vocal arrangements permeate your eardrum on almost all of the songs, and meld together to create a humid concoction of bliss. Del Rey’s vocal stylings are more refined this time around, and flip between heavy baritone delivery to baby-voice singing reminiscent of Britney Spears. The booming instrumentals are perfect for a slow head-bang alongside Del Rey’s delivery of lines like “And when he calls, he calls for me and not for you/He prays for love, he prays for peace, and maybe someone new.” Essentially, she showcases the 2014 equivalent to the classic sex, drugs, rock n’ roll attitude.
Nostalgia is a throughline in all of the music on the record, with “Brooklyn Baby” most prevalently demonstrating Del Rey’s passion for it. Opening with thin-sounding guitar strums, “da da da’s” and the catty “they think I don’t understand the freedom land of the ‘70s.” Her sense of nostalgia is a bit ironic considering she was born in ‘85, but her love letters to decades past don’t come as uneducated or deceitful. The music has clear influences of Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone (her cover of “The Other Woman” on this record is hauntingly brilliant), and Lou Reed–all of which back up her credibility as a retro-inspired pop act.
The brilliance of this record is Del Rey’s self-awareness and almost-sarcastic wink. Yes, she’s singing about domestic abuse, times past, and melancholy–but she’s also the one steering the ship. She slips in quick admissions so slyly that if you tune out for even a second, you’ll miss them. “If you don't get it, then forget it/'Cause I don't have to fuckin' explain it,” she shrugs. Even though this line is directed to her subject, it applies to any critic or listener. Not only is Del Rey aware of your misconceptions about her, but she frankly doesn’t care. Her maintained sense of awareness and self-destructive nature remind listeners that even the most glamorous of stars have masochistic tendencies too. Most important to take away is that even in your most painful moments, you still have the power to take control of your story.