By now, we’ve got a decent sense of what to expect from Lana Del Rey‘s Ultraviolence.
Between the hazy, psychedelic-rock flair of “West Coast” and the stormy “Shades Of Cool,” Lana’s evidently obscured almost all of the sunlight that occasionally poked through on Born To Die and digging deeper and darker than she’s ever gone before.
Today’s wonderfully written cover story for The FADER, too, reveals the depressing tone of the record, Lana’s own world (a “weird, weird world”), as well as the themes she explores again and again with her music.
Over the years, four themes have come to define her lyrics, whichever the persona: indecisiveness, submissiveness, reverence for American icons and self-destructiveness, both within herself and the men she idolizes in song. It’s a lot of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss),” and in fact, she quotes that infamous song unwinkingly on the title track of Ultraviolence, before continuing, You’re my cult leader, I love you forever, I love you forever.
And tonight, Lana debuted “Ultraviolence.”
Sonically speaking, the gorgeous title track fits in seamlessly with the first two offerings off of the album — and it’s perhaps the best song to come from the album yet.
Mournful violins and dramatic piano chords color the verses; the trippy, ’60’s psych-rock “West Coast” guitars and slow-marching drums fill out the aching chorus. The breathy pre-chorus is lush (“Jim brought me back…“), as is the spoken word outro, but it’s that haunting, repetitive chorus (“Ultraviolence…“) that will linger long after the song comes to a close. It’s classic, cinematic Lana at her best.
Without a doubt though, it’s the lyrics of “Ultraviolence” that will garner the most attention.
The song centers around her lover, Jim — someone she’s name-dropped several times before on unreleased tracks — and the way he brings her back to a time of innocence. As with all of Lana’s music, it’s an us-against-the-world kind of love: “We can go back to New York, loving you was really hard/We can go back to the start where they don’t know who we are,” she urges.
Their love is unusual, difficult and, yes…even violent: “He hit me and it felt like a kiss,” Lana purrs in the first verse. “He hurt me but it felt like true love,” she sighs in the next.
This is hardly the first song to tackle the subject of rough love: Apart from the song it explicitly references (The Crystals‘ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)”), The Cardigans‘ “And Then You Kissed Me” and Florence + The Machine‘s “Kiss With A Fist” also come to mind.
But is Lana glamorizing actual abuse, or is she just indulging in her own fetish?
I ask her why she’s always being choked in her videos, and she gives a fitting answer: “I like a little hardcore love.”
With that explanation in mind, “Ultraviolence” isn’t really about the horror of being hit, but wanting it to happen.
In a climate of cultural appropriation thinkpieces, political correctness, art policing and #ItGetsBetter pop, Lana’s submissiveness is bold…and refreshing. What happened to the art of storytelling, anyway? Why can’t we tell stories in music that aren’t all ponies and rainbows? Why does every artist need to espouse the same positive message? They’re musicians — not moral compasses.
Lana Del Rey is, quite candidly, a persona. She has the option of being “anyone she wants to be,” and we have the option of accepting that. (And I do.)
‘Ultraviolence’ will be released on June 17. (iTunes)