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Possibly one of the most controversial US exports around at the minute, Lana Del Rey, has released her third album, Ultraviolence. The build-up to this LP has been huge, and since announcing details of the album at the screening of her film, the anticipation has been unbearable for fans of Del Rey. In the midst of slowly previewing tracks from the album online and being blasted (very unfairly) for supposedly promoting violence against women, it is tough for to decide whether I am relieved or frustrated that the lyrics of the opener, 'Cruel World' are so familiar: 'Share my body and my mind with you/ That's all over now/ Did what I had to do/ Cause you're so far past me now'. What I am trying to say is that while there will always be a part of me itching for Del Rey to just write something more independent without implying an inequality between men and women as most of her music does, another part of me respects her artistic integrity for writing honestly about her perspective, in spite of adversity. The music industry doesn't need another Beyonce, especially not one whose music wouldn't be sincere.
Prepare yourself, though, for another album with exactly the same lyrical themes as the previous one, not that that's a bad thing. Born To Die was one of the best albums of 2012 so I guess it makes sense to continue in the same vein. But Del Rey is still singing about drinking, drugs and being used by men, which disappoints me because I feel like she is a good enough musician to have done something revolutionary.
There has been development musically though, possibly due to the production of The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. However, there is less diversity between the songs, as most of them are quite slow and make you feel you've drunk too much wine. On 'Cruel World', at a running time of 6:39, this formula wears a bit thin, but its anthemic nature is its saving grace. You can't escape the feeling that Del Rey is leading a metaphorical battle cry with this song because it's so majestic.
She's not afraid to explore the darker side of the female psyche either, denying an interest in religious and intellectual pursuits in 'Money Power Glory', preferring to 'take you for all that you've got'. The Sinatra-esque 'The Other Woman' is a beautiful throwback to '60s jazz, but the lyrics that come along with this begin to grate after about thirty seconds. I don't think that Del Rey can really claim to be disinterested in feminism as she has done in recent months when almost every song on this album is about gender roles.
This review really wasn't intended to be so much about feminism, but it is something that might cloy at you on first listen. Del Rey just about gets away with it because her voice is just so spectacular, and, for me, is one of the best of our generation. 'Ultraviolence' is a prime example of the beautiful cinematic quality of her voice, even if for a moment you might think you're listening to 'Summertime Sadness'. 'West Coast' is the crown jewel of this record, as the ultimate showcase of her new synth-based sound. I didn't like this song the first time I heard it, but the juxtaposition of lazy vocals in the verses with a passionately-sung bridge make it a contender for the best Lana song ever.
Overall, the album is not as good as Born To Die, but it's still a pretty good listen. However, the lack of more upbeat tracks that featured on the previous record means you need a long attention span. The disappointment in Del Rey's choice to play it safe is palpable, but the genius of some of the songs more than makes up for it.