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ATP! Album Review: Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Album leaks are never fun, but the music industry is starting to figure out that they don’t have to be the demise of a new release. Case in point: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence, which leaked five days before its scheduled debut.

Since Born To Die quietly came out in 2012, Del Rey has been violently whipped into superstardom thanks to some viral videos, a few movie soundtrack contributions, piles of interviews to showcase the starlet’s utter eccentricity, and an entire national tour that sold out in minutes.

And the album’s leak will only help the singer. She’s already released four songs from Ultraviolence, all of which have been worshiped by fans. A daylong leak just proved the hype is all worth it.

Ultraviolence runs off the flow of the Paradise EP. Instead of hip-hop and over-produced sampling, Del Rey is performing in the dim of a jazz club humid with the heat of a southern summer. Her vocals are higher and, accompanied by a live band, the music is richer.

True to her retro fashion, Lana opens Ultraviolence with the Magical, six-and-a-half-minute Mystery Tour of “Cruel World,” a psychedelic track showcasing how right producer Dan Auerbach was in getting a complete band to enhance Del Rey’s crazy-beautiful world.

That devotion to dysfunctional romance is often what gets people pissed off about the singer, but that hasn’t stopped Del Rey from saturating her music with it. “Ultraviolence,” released earlier this month, pissed a lot of people off for its seeming glorification of domestic violence. “Sad Girl” slowly intoxicates you with brushed snare, blues and touches of Spanish guitar as Lana seems unable to differentiate between being a bad girl and a sad one. Likewise, “Pretty When You Cry” can’t separate beauty from pain in the same way a singer alone on stage accompanied by just an electric guitar is both heartbreaking and lovely.

Bonus track “Black Beauty” is one of the record’s darkest tracks and one of its most vibrant highlights. An ‘80s power slow dance, the song explores Del Rey’s response to a man trapped in his own despair; life may be beautiful, but Lana dons a black leather wedding dress, dark Spanish hair and black nails. Like Picasso’s Blue Period, the song creates art even in the depths of darkness.

But the album isn’t all glorified self-loathing; some of the old Born To Die themes of badass wealth and fame are back with songs like “Fucked My Way Up To The Top,” the unapologetic acknowledgement of past sins for the sake of success, and “Florida Kilos,” where Lana’s childish vocals are met with warmer guitar and coke on the beach. Even “Shades of Cool” is a love song of dreamy orchestra and divine bass line founded on the coolness of a guy who drives a Chevy Malibu and loves his drugs as much as he loves his girls.

“Money Power Glory” is the absolute height of this worship of the material world. If you’re going to listen to any song off Ultraviolence, this needs to be it. With spiritual crescendos and guitar wailing right alongside church-worthy vocals, Del Rey’s ability to turn money, power and glory into religious icons converges into a new take on a centuries-old descant: “Hallelujah, I want to take you for all that you got.”

Part of what makes Lana Del Rey so enigmatic is her ability to write songs about groveling over a man and making money into legitimate pieces of music. The band on Ultraviolence certainly doesn’t hurt, allowing Del Rey’s voice to be enveloped in California reggae rhythm and foggy reverb on “West Coast” or the low-time jazz of the 1940s on “The Other Women.” No, Del Rey definitely doesn’t take her music lightly. She recently said in an interview that Lou Reed, one of her heroes mentioned in “Brooklyn Baby,” was set to duet with Lana on the track. But the legend died two minutes after she landed to meet with him, on October 27, 2013.

“Old Money” is a new take on her 1954 “Blue Velvet” cover and is much less vulgar than her other tracks. Without percussion and in a lower range, Lana sings of the power of youth and the glamor of the past in a piece that could have been performed in the ‘50s itself, the decade rock ‘n’ roll began. And bonus track “Guns and Roses” is a true ode to that ‘80s electric we hear sprinkled throughout the record in Lana’s praise of a big hair, bad boys and the love of your life shredding on his Vigier Excalibur. This record’s musicianship is irrefutable.

Ultraviolence as a whole is like Penny Lane overdosing on Quaaludes: crying yet romantic, both loved and unloved, the most elegant representation of female tactlessness.

With everyone so preoccupied with finding the next song of the summer, what we need this season isn’t more radio-ready tracks from artists who force their sexuality on you so hard that all you can think about is screwing the person next to you at the club.

What we need are more records to get high to, to get us excited about musicianship again, to be able to dissect songs because every time you hear them you notice something new. What we need is music that makes you contemplate sex and death and brilliance because of how that music makes you feel and where it takes you. Count your blessings, because Ultraviolence just gave us all that.


Carolyn Vallejo

Ultraviolence will be released on June 17th via Interscope Records.

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