Ultraviolence is not just a natty, knowing phrase borrowed by Lana Del Rey from everyone’s favourite nadsat anarchist, but an expression of the dense midnight blues that engulfs this much anticipated release. Taking a journey away from the Sunset Boulevard and the sumptuous string-soaked heartache of Born to Die (and its Paradise edition add on) this time out Lana is hitching a ride to desolation row never to return. This is Lana Del Rey 2.0, sheriff of Ricky Nelson’s lonesome town.
The relationships are of the cinematic variety, intense and eternally pained. Its characters- the mistress of ‘Sad Girl’, the delusional girlfriend of ‘Brooklyn Baby’ and the title track; the no-good bad-boys ingrained in every track inhabit a world of obsessional passion that last only in four minute bursts of these trauma-heavy pop songs. They are the True Romance scraped into the skin, the violet bruises hidden behind the movie-star shades, the streaked inky mascara, the heart of darkness beating beneath the flimsy taffeta. It’s no surprise that the title track quotes The Crystals’ most controversial tune ‘He Hit Me and it Felt Like a Kiss’, there is an uncomfortable line of cruelty and death- flirting that coils throughout the album that ventures beyond previous pouty-baby blues into a sphere where she could be accused of trying on deep sadness like it’s a new shade of lipstick.
The disturbing air of subjugation that dominates these tracks robs the album of the beautiful, bitter taste of Californian Noir that Lana has cooked up with Black Keys troubadour Dan Auerbach. The warped shimmering riff of lead single ‘West Coast’, a joyride that twists The Beatles’ ‘And I Love Her’ into Stevie Nick’s ‘Edge of Seventeen’ with a full-blooded waltz-time chorus that seduces right up to the pealing, siren call of the final note, is a creation of pure beauty. Album opener ‘Cruel World’ is a languid, unfurling limb of a song, a hypnotic hymn to young love that is part dreamy Mazzy Star part gin-soaked bar room chanteuse with Lana’s vocals running the full gauntlet from kittenish lisp to blissed-out yodel. Where the icy ‘Shades of Cool’ presents the vision of Lana Del Rey in her original concoction, the doomed prom queen that trills like a satin throated nightingale.
These tracks were made for sweat-stained cruel summer nights, born to be on repeat, floating out over city skies whilst teen girls swoon into their bed-sheets. What Auerbach has brought to this musical motel pool-party is a focus and structure previously absent from her mismatched debut. Gone are the misplaced hip-hop touches, the cutesy annoyance of ‘Off to the Races’ or the bizarre day-glo trash of ‘Diet Mountain Dew’. Auerbach appears to have taken his cue from the polished retread of her debut where things became less ‘gansta’ and more Nancy Sinatra, a grown-up world of sinister Americana and created a broken down dive bar band to accompany these tales of glorious woe. This doom-laden landscape is where Lana has firmly pitched her flag with interviews focusing on her fragile mental state, her general despair with media dissection and destruction, the life of a glamorously tortured artist. The tight focus on this mood, whilst crafting a more coherent piece of work has also sadly jettisoned the brilliance of her lighter themes, by creating this flick-knife reflection she has lost the ballsy thrills of tracks like ‘National Anthem’ or the charming silliness of ‘Radio’.
This Valley of the Dolls glum-pop is possibly not what the kids that invested in the chart-destroying, holiday-dominating remix of ‘Summertime Sadness’ by Cedric Gervais are expecting. Neither is it likely to be what the record company were anticipating, with the chocolate-box strings at a minimum and the despondency of their 7 million albums selling cash-cow at an all time high. Ultraviolence may be Lana’s goodbye letter to a pop world that cares only about how to capitalise on an image. It’s a world that barely knew what to do with her and worried about where to place her on the scale of fruity female stars. She’s slipped out of the party leaving only this parting gift, an indulgent whisky-mouthed sprawl heavy-lidded with downers and covered in nicotine kisses. Ultraviolence is the horror show of the American Dream gone sour, Lana Del Rey’s beautiful self-constructed nightmare that only she can awaken from.