Saturday, April 09, 2016

Ultraviolence (2014)

Sometimes good things happen for weird reasons, so if my interest in Lana Del Rey started with confusion between upstate New Yorker Lizzy Grant's adopted stage name and another evocative chanteuse, Rebekah Del Rio, who made a famous cameo in the movie Mulholland Dr. singing Roy Orbison's "Crying," and/or maybe Lana Turner, who appeared in The Postman Always Rings Twice, well then, all right. Whatever it takes. To be clear, there's something so silly about Lana Del Rey that, defensively, instinctively, I want to file it under "guilty pleasure." Consider how Tom Breihan of Stereogum breaks it down on the arrival of this her second album, detailing her carefully constructed persona: "A coastal-elite pillhead, a girl who strings rich men along and falls for drug-dealer dirtbags. She's juggling relationships where she has all the power and relationships where she has none. She's obsessed with transforming herself into a glamorous archetype even as she's figuring out that the glamorous-archetype lifestyle is no way to live. She knows that people think the way she acts is fucked up, and she delights in the judgement of others, even as she realizes she's not really doing anything to make herself happier." In other words, Ginger McKenna in Casino, which is not even Karen Hill in Goodfellas. The persona certainly appears to stem from some sector of the Scorsese galaxy anyway. (I found Breihan's summation, by the way, via a tongue-in-cheek round-up of Lana Del Rey think pieces.) This is how we get to an album titled Ultraviolence, and songs (often very good songs) titled "Cruel World," "Sad Girl," "Pretty When You Cry," and "Fucked My Way to the Top" (for the sake of Walmart and other delicate flowers, spelled "****** My Way to the Top" on the back cover). Perhaps the worst title is perhaps my favorite song: "Shades of Cool," which is an aching bruise about what else alienation meditation concentration. "I can't break through your world / 'Cause you live in shades of cool." Her gorgeous breathy stretch for the notes on "But you are invincible" and a guitar solo from producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys further clarify the sledgehammer points. In the next song she is found going on about "while I sing Lou Reed" and a boyfriend who puts her down. It's signifiers, heat, and flash, never really saying anything yet somehow alighting on random moments in which she seems to be saying everything. I want to call her a poet, but it's not exactly words, or anyway lyrics, where she most effectively expends her poet powers. She plays the sullen love doll for a joke, I swear, but then there's the song "Money Power Glory" (all of which she wants obv, though not necessarily in that order), with its word choice of "glory," which is so specific, deliberate, and apt. In these moments the songs on this album move with a will of their own. Sometimes even the wince-worthy "Sad Girl" is the one that can matter more than anything. Hard to stop listening to this and the albums on either side (Born to Die and Honeymoon) actually a fair amount.

1 comment:

  1. It is a real missed opportunity, marketing-wise, that she didn't debut in Muholland Dr. In a song, say, like "High By The Beach," the wickedly woozy dream pop works for me but I've had trouble connecting w/ the albums.