The title of Lana Del Rey’s third album, Ultraviolence, initially appealed to me because of its reference to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, one of my favorite novels. Like the book (and Kubrick’s excellent film adaptation), Lana Del Rey’s newest release is dark and poignant with an essence of the surreal. Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange in a form of Russian-influenced English, which is important for readers because it acts as a sort of barrier, or protective force, as the disturbing events of plot unfold. Similarly, Del Rey’s soothing voice is like a layer of fog, obscuring the somber content within. Topics she frequently explores in her lyrics include depression, drug abuse, and infidelity, but she paints it with such a pop-romantic veneer that you’d think it a love song.
Ultraviolence opens with “Cruel World,” a ballad about heartbreak, but the track ranges from Amy Winehouse grit – “got your bible, got your gun” – to Miley Cyrus vacuity – “you like to party and have fun.” Del Rey refers to this style as “Hollywood sadcore,” at times profound, yet always cinematic, illustrating the tribulations of youth, but perhaps more accurately the loneliness of celebrity culture. The title track “Ultraviolence” has the same feel, though a bit more masochistic with lines like, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss.” Del Rey alternates between English and Spanish, displaying her So-Cal roots, but again taking a Burgessian approach to placating the listener’s ears.
The instrumentation is a jazzy dreamscape consisting of light percussion, provocative synthesizer settings, tenor saxophone, and bluesy guitar riffs from producer Dan Auerbach, guitarist and singer for The Black Keys. Del Rey and Auerbach are a match made in hipster heaven, which shows in tracks like “Brooklyn Baby” and “West Coast,” where she sings of beat poetry, Parliament cigarettes, amphetamines, and the 1970s. Urban Outfitters has even released an exclusive vinyl print of the album, and we all know you can’t get much more hip than that.
Ultraviolence has sold over one million copies so far and has landed Lana Del Rey both on the cover of Rolling Stone and the number one spot on the U.S. Billboard 200. In her interview with Rolling Stone, she cites Cat Power, Courtney Love, Lou Reed, and Axl Rose as influences, which are apparent in songs like “Sad Girl,” “Money Power Glory,” and “Pretty When You Cry.” Del Rey manages to blend Americana, pop-rock, and fatalism into a catchy melancholy, reminiscent of Radiohead or Florence and the Machine, and she seems to have matured from her previous two albums, Lana Del Rey and Born to Die, where she sang mostly of PBR, blue jeans, beauty queens, and Diet Mountain Dew. Ultraviolence carries more weight and resonates on a deeper level, especially the haunting track “Old Money.”
Notable 2014 performances include Coachella and the Glastonbury Festival, and though her tour is coming to a close, you can still catch her this fall at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on October 4th and 11th. If you can’t get to Texas, I recommend giving Ultraviolence a listen; it’s the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day, vintage clothing store, or smoky lounge. One thing’s for sure, pop music’s new IT girl is much more complicated than her contemporaries, transcending genres and generations, a veritable Marilyn Monroe.