Ultraviolence – Album Review

Ultraviolence cover

Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey’s 2014 release, is a coherent, melancholy album that ranks among Rey’s best work so far. As an artist, she has released an immense stylistic range, and this album is no different. Leaving the hip-hop Born To Die for a more heady, almost druggy slow rock that portrays her dark tone and deeply troubled stories with beautiful prose.

Del Rey, as an artist, has an aesthetic reminiscent of many grunge and alt-rock singers, Kurt Cobain most easily coming to mind. Her soulful songbird voice has a deep, intense sadness behind it that comes into full bloom into this album, backed by slow-paced, guitar-focused, echoey instrumentals. The instruments rarely get in the way, preferring instead to let Del Rey’s vocals and her pensive, eloquent lyrics take center stage.

A lot of my songs are not just simple verse-chorus pop songs — they’re more psychological.Lana Del Rey
Her lyrics are the clear winner here, distinguishing the eleven very similar-sounding songs on the album and presenting a tortured narrative with herself as the heroine (or anti-heroine?) struggling with her very public alcoholism, cultism, abusive relationships, breakups, affairs, and a whole host of other very heavy topics. In an interview with The Guardian, she talked about the psychological study of her songs, as well as her personal experiences with alcoholism and death. Those dark themes are woven throughout her songs, making this an album not to be undertaken lightly.

The album starts with Cruel World, which speaks of her romance with alcohol. Referencing her songs Lolita and American, Lana is a naive young girl whose alcoholism introduces her into a glass-half-empty world with a torrent of lovers, partying, and drugs. Ultimately, however, she is rid of all of it, “so happy now you’re gone”.

The title track Ultraviolence is a story about Del Rey’s time in Atlantic Group, a cultish AA group led by a “guru” called Jim. He breaks down addicts in order to build them up, and Lana seduces him, quoting her song Fucked My Way Up to the Top: “lay me down tonight, in my linen and curls”.

Shades of Cool is about her relationship with a drug addict, trying to “fix” him.

Brooklyn Baby is a satire piece about a woman who uses her boyfriend’s status in a band to brag about her unique and rare tastes in jazz and her obsession with beat poetry. She clings to what shred of credibility she has; the pulsing chorus inserting the “look at me, I listen to jazz and read beat poetry” none-too-subtly, truly capturing her desperation for acceptance.

The tracks Sad Girl and The Other Woman are both about cheating, with Lana being on both sides. The latter song, a Nina Simone cover, is about a jealous woman taunting her spouse’s “other woman”, and Sad Girl is about Lana as the other woman.

The rest of the album is equally as remarkable, but touches on very similar themes such that it would be repetitive to review each song individually.

All in all, the album delivers a tortured portrait of Lana and her numerous protagonists, struggling to exist and find meaning in each of their bizarre and cloudy existences. The albums instrumentals, while sufficient, clearly play second fiddle to Lana’s soulful voice and intricate, poetic lyrics. There’s not that much wrong with this album save that it can get slightly repetitive, but it never dips into boring territory.

Here’s the wrapup:

  • The Good: beautiful vocals spin complex narratives 
  • The Bad: similar instrumentals and stories can get repetitive 
  • Rating: 9 out of 10

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