ULTRAVIOLENCE: A Return to the Ambivalence of Lana Del Rey


I'm only listening to her new album through for the first time now as I'm writing this post (correction: the first song's just begun again). Spotify's got the version with the badwords blanked which I find more distracting than salving, but what do you know.

Last time Lana was promoting pedophilia and this time she's glamorizing domestic abuse. Last time I excused her as a satirist; this time I'm not sure. I suspect there's at least an emblem of satire, but she plays it so straight it's hard to be sure. Lorde, love her seventeen-year-old self, paints pretty clearly in satirical colors. So she's not dangerous. We can nod our heads and feel cool as a Kiwi. Lana never tilts her hand and so, well, how do we know if she's the hero or the villain? Whatever she's doing, it's more complex than either plain glamorization or straight satire.

I hadn't intended to write about Lana Del Rey again, but today's story on NPR got me thinking about her in new ways. In fact, I came to see her, at the end of the story, as a bit of a soulmate. Even if I find Ginsberg practically unreadable and am always giving his last name a soft g. She embraces her subject matter as worthy of attention, however she gives it, and views her work as coming from a position of spirituality. Which I find delightful and I'm sure enrages right-thinking people everywhere. Good for her. As someone who spends most of my time thinking about religion in fiction yet publishes largely gory murders of Santa Claus and homo-erotic piranha stories, I feel simpatico with her sentiments.

Anyway. Some early thoughts about the new album:

1. Her voice gets almost uncomfortably vulnerable in "Pretty When You Cry"---the title of which is intriguing as she actually sings "I'm pretty when I cry" in the chorus. This sense of identity displacement seems to suggest something worth suggestion, don't you think?

2. This album's less hiphoppy than Born to Die. Which means you can't count on the bass drawing you in as quickly as it did last time. But once drawn in, I'm finding as much to like.

3. I'm still thinking about how to read influence into the fact that she's been produced this time by one of the Black Keys guys.

4. "Money Power Glory" gets into the old courtesan career path. "F****d My Way to the Top" seems to have a more obviously ambivalent take on the same ideas. I'm interested in how she's directly addressing the historical and current fact that sex is coin of the realm.

5. Before I even heard it, thanks to this article, I was looking for a song taking melodic points from the Nina Rota theme for Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. It includes lines like "the power of youth is on my mind" and phrases that could well be from an older and wiser Juliet. Should such a Juliet ever have existed. Rota's melody is one of the 20th-century's best, but Lana's version takes from it its high points of pleasure and redemption. Last time Lana referenced Romeo to talk about the downsides of youth and wealth and passion. This time she's doing something similar, though less explosive, more inclusive.

I've now found and switched over to the deluxe version of the album which includes bad words and more songs.

6. "The Other Woman"---I don't remember this from the other album so I'm wondering if this is a different production thereof or perhaps I was just distracted. I'm not checking. Sounds like a ballad from the late Sixties or the Seventies---the sort of torcher I would sneak out of bed to listen to when it came up on the radio and my parents were sitting in the kitchen doing whatever it was they did back then.

I'm now headed into the extra cuts, songs I haven't heard before. So I'm going to floss and to listen to them.

I encourage you to do the same.

And I encourage you to engage with Lana Del Rey with the same seriousness we generally save for fiction and poetry not set to music. Let's stop dismissing music either because it's pop or because it's not pop. That's a pretty thorough dichotomy. But hey---Lana Del Rey manages to be both.

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