Lana Del Rey’s “Ultraviolence”: Music review

Finally got myself a copy of Lana’s last album, “Ultraviolence.” I’d heard tracks from the album a couple of times here and there, but didn’t get to give it a studied listen until these last couple of weeks. I love it. She continues on her trajectory, and her voice has grown more seductive, more dappled with luxurious nonchalance, able to flutter so much more delicately through grace notes in a way that leaves butterflies in the stomach. The harmonies sound richer, the layers more interwoven. Here is Lana in all her glorious acceptance of the inevitability of the events of her life and how they form an unchangeable tapestry of her past, even as, beneath the jaded sweetness, there’s that rushing vacuum, the horrible crawling search for escape, for flight away from the past.

The orchestration, the hip-hop elements, are stripped back somewhat, leaving more room for Lana’s voice to breathe, but in place of some of that earlier texture we have more guitars, and a more organic drum track that, at times, rolls out beats and breaks that evoke something like Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” The guitar is, at times, almost unhinged in its solos, treading outside the lines of the scales and blurring the line between major and minor in a way that could be thought amateur if not for the mix of intention and emotion behind it. You can almost see them comparing various takes of the solo on “Shades of Cool” in the studio, and selecting the more out of control take over the more perfect renditions. It gives me the same kind of impression, and the same “studio selection” fantasy, I get when I hear the guitar solos on Paul McCartney’s “House of Wax.”
Often, though, the guitar is careful, controlled, unadorned, just a touch of distortion, centering around sparse chord shapes and their variants. There’s something distinctly latter-day Red Hot Chili Peppers about some of the tracks, like “Brooklyn Baby.” The guitar work on that track would not sound out of place on their “Californication” album, which is apt and appropriate.
Whether it’s the echo of the James Bond theme in “Shades of Cool” or the nod to the key guitar riff from The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” that signals the gear change in “West Coast,” here, as in earlier albums, the fabric of movie soundtracks and the echelons of rock history are all evoked as part of that seductive world of Lana Del Ray.
Some say she’s an Illuminati puppet. Others say she’s a sell-out and a fake, a creation of her producers. There’s a strange controversy and anger out there about Lana del Ray, and I’m glad, because without the controversy I may never have wondered long enough about who was behind that face on the advertising billboards, I may never have sought out her bio, and then proceeded to her music. For me, she’s clearly an incredibly talented artist. Illuminati puppet? Don’t care.

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