Since we started following her career with the release of “Video Games”, Lana Del Rey has had her fair share of detractors. What people can’t say is that this artist is not putting in the work, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Is her sixth(!) studio album since 2010. Released over a year ago, the first sounds most listeners heard from Rockwell was the nearly ten-minute single “Venice Bitch”. It narrowly missed our top ten favourite tracks of 2018, the long song never drags and includes the lyrical earworm “bang bang kiss kiss”. Released at the same time, “Mariners Apartment Complex” is one of the best here, commenting on helping a friend in their time of need with Del Rey relating “you lose your way, just take my hand”.
Many tracks here reference California including one named for the state that references Lennon/Ono that your personal war is over if you want it to be. “Fuck I Love You” was the last track written for the album that says California is just a state of mind, your problems don’t leave you just because you’ve moved. “The Next Best American Record” sounds the most like classic Del Rey and recalls the aforementioned “Video Games” in her lyrical inflections. “The Greatest” is a track that Amy Winehouse could have sung. A classic sounding song with modern lyrics – “I’m wasted… the culture is lit and I had a ball”
Master producer Jack Antonoff co-produces many of the tracks with her but it’s Lana Del Rey that’s the master as she carries many songs with minimal accompaniment, some with just a spare piano and her voice. A few tracks in the middle could easily have been sung by any decent pop singer but songs like “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” could only be done by Del Rey. Featuring several of her best songs, this may be her strongest set of music to date.
In 2012, Lana Del Rey shot to stardom (or maybe just infamy) off her first single, “Video Games”. From out of nowhere, everyone seemed to have an opinion on her. From Del Rey’s love it or hate it appearance on Saturday Night Live (I loved it), her much talked about past, a massive amount of remixes and a clutch of singles that eventually lead to very mixed reviews of her major label debut, Born To Die. Right from the start I loved the singles but stayed away from the debut after the reviews started to come out. I ended up buying Born To Die several months later and thought much of it was brilliant and as a whole, hung together quite well. Now Ms. Del Rey is back a sophomore effort, Ultraviolence.
There isn’t much variation throughout. The music is a bit 60s, a bit Portishead, a bit cinematic, etc. The vocals are all deadpan, played straight and without much feeling. The first third of the album, including the title track, all slip by without much notice. “Brooklyn Baby” doesn’t sound much different from what came before but what sets it apart is the lyrics and how they are sung – “you say I’m like the ice I freeze, I’m churning out novels like Beat poetry on amphetamines”, the one word Brooklyn accent in the second chorus, and the “da da da”s along to the guitar. Single “West Coast” follows and hits a bit harder both musically and vocally than anything else on the album before the beautifully lush chorus.
Lana Del Rey is not as good a singer as Adele and the music here isn’t anywhere near as classic sounding as say, Dusty in Memphis. Where Del Rey shines when her ultra-cool stories border on the ridiculous and are sung with a wink. It’s hard not to smile while listening to tracks like “Money Power and Glory”, “Fucked My Way To The Top” and especially bonus track “Florida Keys” where she’s slinging drugs in Miami. That’s the Del Rey that I like, far too cool and completely over the top, unfortunately there isn’t enough of that here. While Ultraviolence is ultimately not quite as consistent as Born To Die, there are still a handful of songs that shine and are ready made to be remixed over and over again.
My Dad once accused me of spending more time picking out music to listen to while working than actually doing the work itself. I couldn’t argue with that, he was right… but he didn’t know how important it was to find just the right thing to blank out to.
Every month at the day job means another round of mindless data entry for new customer orders. The repetition of the work seems to bring with it a need for repetition in the musical accompaniment. Last year I listened to Grimes’ “Oblivion” endlessly during these times. While its well over a year old, this year that has been replaced with Lana Del Rey’s “Radio”.
Upon release, many critics were blinded by the image Lana was presenting rather than the music. While not the most ground breaking of work, Born to Die had quite a few gems. I find that instead of the several brilliant singles, I keep coming back to the sublime “Radio” instead. “Now my life is sweet like cinnamon, like a fucking dream I’m living in” and the ever knowing, “baby love me cause I’m playing on the radio (how do you like me now?)” are words that never get old. And you know what? I like it quite a bit, Lana.