Lana Del Rey has never been very far from the limelight since her debut album, Born to Die, came out in 2012. In between, she's had EPs (Paradise) and short films (Tropico) to keep her fans plenty sated. Her sophomore album, Ultraviolence, would lead one to believe that she was planning to revive that rare angst-ridden genre that only Alanis Morissette seemed to embody in the 90s. Alas, the album is decidedly tame.
The first time around, critics weren't as willing to hail Del Rey. But now, it seems, they've all lined up to lick her clit. Case in point are the reviewers at Pitchfork, who previously had this to say: "Our heroine has all the love, diamonds, and Diet Mountain Dew she could ask for, yet still sings, "I wish I was dead," sounding utterly incapable of joy. To paraphrase Liz Phair, if you get everything you wish for and you're still unhappy, then you know that the problem is you." The snarky comment is one of many in the review of Born to Die, which is a far cry from the latest, a glowing manifesto of all things Del Rey-ian that praises, "The first section of the album is so gorgeous and rich" and "She’s a pop music original full-stop, and there are not nearly enough of those around." Strange how you can't get people's head out of your ass when you've finally become someone.
With a less laudatory way of saying it, Behind the Hype can attest that, yes, Ultraviolence is good. Opening with "Cruel World" (typical, considering her love of martyrdom), we're introduced to an even moodier Del Rey--as if that was possible. Asserting her dominion as the only singer of her kind, Del Rey affirms, "Everybody knows I'm the best/Yeah, I'm crazy." The sweeping style leads into "Ultraviolence," named in homage to A Clockwork Orange. The opening is reminiscent of, believe it or not, Nelly Furtado's "I'm Like A Bird." Equally as melancholic, Del Rey showcases her vocal evolution with ease.
"Shades of Cool" is something of a follow-up to the stripped down style of Paradise's "Yayo." Minimal and without much in the way of musical production (until the sultry guitar riff comes in at the end), it is one of the most unique tracks on the album. What follows is "Brooklyn Baby," a distinct love letter to the part of the borough that encompasses Williamsburg/Greenpoint/Bushwick. It is far more anthemic than "West Coast," also produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.
The self-declarative "Sad Girl" discusses "being a mistress on the side," a topic that seems to be of extreme interest to LDR based on the "Ride" video. On this particular song, Del Rey favors sounds and moans as a opposed to coherently pronouncing lyrics. I was hoping she would also tap into her esoteric predilections to rhyme something with "sad" other than "bad." Continuing the slow tempo vibe, "Pretty When You Cry" is another one of LDR's lamentations of a lost love. She fulfills every male fantasy by singing, "You make me feel like your whole world/I'll wait for you babe/That's all I do babe." On the plus side, she feels, "pretty when [she] cries."
"Money Power Glory"--which I hope is a dig at Lady Gaga's "Beautiful Dirty Rich"--is among the most musically lush songs on Ultraviolence. Announcing the common American desire, "I want money, power, glory/I wanna take you for all that you've got," Del Rey does her best to reinvigorate an American dream that's been hibernating since the end of the 90s. Appropriately, "Fucked My Way To The Top" succeeds a song about money and power as Del Rey notes, "You got nothing/I got tested/Lay me down tonight/I fucked my way up to the top/This is my shot." At least she admits it, unlike most others at her level of fame. Money remains the focus in "Old Money," which is in keeping with Del Rey's love of all things Old Hollywood and glamorous. She tosses around all the key buzz words, including, "Cold cash divine/Cashmere cologne/And white sunshine/Red racing cars/Sunset and Vine."
Sultry and evocative, Del Rey again explores one of her favorite subjects, "the mistress"--except this time, she's not the one playing said role. Admiring of the other woman's perfections, this song is the flip side to "Sad Girl" as she drones, "The other woman is perfect where her rival fails/She's never seen with pin curls in her hair anywhere." A remake of Jessie Mae Robinson's bluesy original, Del Rey does it plenty of justice with her keen understanding of suffering.
"Black Beauty" begins the bonus track section and sets an ethereal closing motif, with Del Rey mirroring the vocals of Sinead O'Connor in a similarly sweltry voice that elucidates, "I paint my nails black/I dye my hair a darker shade/Life is beautiful but you don't have a clue." After the rumors that LDR was dating Axl Rose, perhaps "Guns and Roses" is a way to address that "heavy metal love of mine." Though it's not the strongest song on the album, it's nice to know she can back up wearing a Guns and Roses tee, unlike many others.
Giving us a snapshot of nearly all corners of the U.S., "Florida Kilos" is the most uptempo track, emphasized by the fact that it is the second to last song that concludes Ultraviolence's deluxe version. Again showing her love of a bygone lifestyle, she assures, "Gonna party like it's 1949." Evidently, it's a sentiment that all of her previous detractors can finally get on board with. It's almost as though SNL never happened. "Is This Happiness?" is the final track and poses a philosophical question that Del Rey has been asking perhaps since she majored in metaphysics at Fordham.