15 November 2014

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

Here we are then, as I put it at the end of our review of 'Born To Die' (Cleverly linked here) at the shake of the dice for Lana Del Rey.  At the end of that review I said the next album would help either shape Ms Del Rey into the next Duffy or Amy Winehouse.  If I am honest, I have avoided this album since it came out in June; I have even tried to pass it to one of the other guys to review it.  But it was not to be and here we are at that turbulent time of year with it on my list to do.  Since we last looked at Ms Del Rey’s music she has became a model for H&M, won some awards (including a Brit award) and faced the expected backlash that comes when NME hypes you to the hills.  But Ms Del Rey has decided on a different path for this album.  The main part of it is produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys; however this album does have another four producers attached to other tracks.  I think that regular readers know my feelings towards multi-producer albums - they tend not to work.  When looking at production list there are 6 producers, 5 engineers, 4 mixers and thankfully only one person mastering it.  That is an awful lot of people stirring the pot in different directions.  Granted on the writing side, Ms Del Rey seems to have control of that; but even before a note is played I am worried that this will be like most of the other multi-produced album I have heard - let's hope that the influence of Mr Auerbach holds the album together.

The opening track from this album is called "Cruel World" and from the beginning you can heard the influence of Auerbach on Ms Del Rey from the beginning.  A mixture of blues music and the sultry vocals which sound fuller, more confident and from the outset you are confronted with a much improved prospect and artist from the lady who made the first album.  It still sounds as if someone has been incredibly mean to her in ways that are not to be broadcast publicly, but if she was doing happy tunes I guess it would just be a reality that some people would not be able to cope with. Next is the title track of the album and we are treated to a sort of dream pop nightmare/old school James Bond theme but it has a restraint that was not evident on 'Born To Die', as if Ms Del Rey has been given proper direction or she has found someone who shares her vision.  Sounding more composed and full of confidence makes this a stunning track, I have a feeling that watching this live might not be my cup of tea; but from the studio it is an enjoyable tune.  "Shades Of Cool" is the third track of the album and that sense of sorrow mixed with pain is still aching all over this track. This again could have been used as a Bond theme, it oozes that cool comes with that sort of number.  It has a noir/fem fatale flavour and it makes the memories of 'Born To Die' fade to nothing.  Three tracks in, this album is already an improvement on the last record.

"Brooklyn Baby" however, appears to want to undo all the good work done by the opening three tracks.  Whatever Del Rey and Auerbach were aiming for (I have a feeling it had some sort of old school oriental tune mixed with the blues/modern pop), they have missed it by a country mile.  This was released as a single and that seems to be a mistake, the tune is just weak sauce and derails the records like a brick through a windscreen.  However, "West Coast" (which was released as the first single), is much better.  It does not have the hipster vibe of the early numbers, but it does have a certain something; call it a charm or spirit, but it once again shows what a good unit these two cats can be.  It also book ends the section of the album which exclusively came exclusively from their recording sessions, there is more from Auerbach by himself (as well as another where he is a second producer).  The first of these tracks is "Sad Girl" which has Rick Nowells joining the duo to produce the vocals.  Now if I am totally honest, apart from the vocals this is an Auerbach song; it would also be incredibly hard to tell the difference in that way.  But my deity, this is the sort of tune that Ms Del Rey vocals suit so well it could have been done by one of those rich tailor that charge you by the litre of blood.  It is like velvet on the ears and I cannot help but be seduced by its charms.  If you have any interest in blues and pop, check this out - this song is strange, bizarre and so out of time with the modern music scene. Following on is the equally devastating "Pretty When I Cry", this track was produced by Ms Del Ray herself, Blake Stranathan and Lee Foster, this tale of a an abusive relationship has a tone akin to songs from a Quentin Tarantino soundtrack. The grandeur of the number is held together from lonesome vocals to the ending solo with style.  Another stunning piece of dream pop which is only spoilt by the ending, it just sort of stops dead in its track; bit of a shame really.

"Money Power Glory" is produced by Greg Kurtsin and once again has the slow and moody nailed to the ground.  However, the song itself does not reach the heights of the last two numbers; but it is still a decent number at least.  "Fucked My Way Up To The Top" is quite possibly one of the most ironically titled tracks of the album.  The second last of the Auerbach produced numbers and it is dripping with irony and sarcasm, seriously this song is another track that shows that Ms Del Rey is a very clever lady; the music in places sounds a little busy and that distracts from the words which are the best feature of this song, but it is another quality tune for this album.  The penultimate track is "Old Money" which is produced by Daniel Heath; it is a string affair that has a styling like the title track of her last album, "Born To Die".  Indeed, this track feels like a mix of that track and "Video Games" with lyrics about looking back onto the past, finding words and hope in the past and when someone is in need that she will be there for them.  The strength of this track is that it is not too busy, Ms Del Rey has been given time to let her vocals expand, it is a great song.  Ending the album is the cover of "The Other Woman" which was done by Nina Simone; it is not a necessary song for the album; if it was not on the album I doubt very much that it would be missed.  But it is a good version of the number, just not essential for the record. 

Now, I have just reviewed the main songs of the album - this is due to the fact that there are about a billion versions of the record (something that really annoys me about modern album releases, do we really need 15 versions of the same album released within a year of the original release date).  Overall this album is very stylistic and a little out of time with a lot of modern pop music.  I do find that the cynic in me feels like it is deliberately out of time with the rest of the pop scene, but then it would make sense to stand out from the general crowd of Katy Perry's and Taylor Swift's.  There are a couple of tracks which do not live up to the vast majority of the album. But that is part of the course with this type of record, also my misgivings about it being a multi-produced album as the vast majority was masterfully handled by Mr Auerbach.  The improvement from 'Born To Die' to 'Ultraviolence' cannot be understated and if those couple of tracks has have been removed this would have been a perfect pop-noir record.  Well played Ms Del Rey, well played.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Sad Girl

You can purchase the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Lana Del Rey website here

You can listen to Ultraviolence on Spotify here

For our Deezer users, here is a link for you

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