The Magic Whip
Lana Del Rey’s second album is proof positive that the sublime and the ridiculous are far from exclusive categories.
Few artists are as divisive as Los Angeles’ doomed-romantic epic balladeer. For every listener swooning at the cinematic majesty and exquisite languor of her debut, 2012’s Born To Die, there was another complaining bitterly that she was a phoney and a cynically constructed caricature.
Ultraviolence is a dead cert to engender a similarly polarised reaction. Del Rey certainly hasn’t varied her musical or lyrical palette: opening track Cruel World finds her bemoaning a no-good boyfriend, putting on her little red party dress (always a Del Rey staple) and rhyming bourbon and suburban over the most sumptuous strings and beats this side of Massive Attack or a David Lynch soundtrack.
Indeed, Del Rey’s limited lyrical world is so caught up in the world of melodramatic, flawed glamour that it could only be more clichéd if the album arrived wrapped in a Photo-shopped image of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. Sad Girl hovers near to self-parody, as does The Other Woman, and did she really keep a straight face while singing a song called Pretty When You Cry?
Yet it works, brilliantly, because these lush siren songs sound lustrous, somnolent yet never soporific, and Del Rey gives us plenty of clues that she is toying with her ultra-submissive persona, not consumed by it. There is the title track recycling the Crystals’ infamous line ‘He hit me, and it felt like a kiss’; Brooklyn Baby (a song she wrote to record with Lou Reed, only for him to die as she landed in New York) slipping out of character to declare ‘My boyfriend’s cool, but he’s not as cool as me’; the way that Money Power Glory and F***ed My Way To The Top see her shift from glamour-puss Stepford Wife to potty-mouthed gold-digger.
It’s a sublime pop album, and these crucial nods and winks let us in on the secret that, yes, Lana Del Rey knows her femme-fatale shtick is ridiculous and layered on with a trowel, but she loves it anyway. So should we. Ultraviolence is glorious.