Why Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence feels more relevant than ever

Lana's masterful second album is a bold and bruised magnum opus that redefined the trajectory of her career.
lana del rey ultraviolence

Lana Del Rey's Ultraviolence is set to return to the Top 10 of the Official Albums Chart tomorrow. First of all...is everyone feeling OK?

Following a very special re-release of an Ultraviolence vinyl (featuring the album's now-mythical alternate cover, shot by Neil Krug, which pictures Lana picking apart the thread of her ripped jeans with sharp, red nails, previously an Urban Outfitters exclusive), Lana's bruised, battered and brilliant second album could very well explode back into the upper echelons of the Official Chart for the first time since 2014. 

But aside from the re-release, now does seem a fitting time to pay tribute to Ultraviolence and everything it's done for Lana's career. Namely, that it helped redefine her public image and, for the most part, her sonic identity as an artist, paving a road that ultimately lead to Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd., which became Lana's sixth UK Number 1 album earlier this year.

But first, let's crunch the numbers. According to Official Charts Company data, Ultraviolence has shifted 355,000 chart units in the UK as of the time of writing. Across the 15 tracks available on the album's deluxe edition, Ultraviolence has claimed a massive 223 million total streams, with lead single West Coast leading the charge, with 48 million streams to its name.

MORE: See where all of Lana Del Rey's singles and albums have charted in the UK here

1. Ultraviolence was a necessary pivot away from the well-defined aesthetic of Born To Die

To put it quite simply, Lana Del Rey's debut album Born To Die is one of the most influential albums in pop music over the last 10 years. It's aesthetic - that of Lana Del Rey as the chain-smoking, coiffed femme fatale, the gangster Nancy Sinatra with a dying dedication to her man and the American flag - was heavily entrenched and entirely definitive. One of the best things about Born To Die was that it made Lana Del Rey an instantly recognisable star with very easy to spot references both visually and musically. One of the most difficult things to rectify post the album release, however, was that Born To Die made Lana Del Rey an instantly recognisable star with very easy-to-spot references both visually and musically.

It's easy to talk about now (because Lana has pivoted away from the Born To Die era so successfully, even though at the time this was fraught and full of potential for disaster) but at the time, there was a very real perception that perhaps the monolithic influence of her debut album was simply a hurdle too large for Lana to overcome. Even in interviews leading up to the album's release, she admitted that at a certain point, she contemplated scrapping plans for a second album, noting that she had "said everything I wanted to say" within the confines of Born To Die and its deluxe re-release, Paradise. 

But despite her hesitation, Lana quickly tapped into the secret of stepping out of Born To Die's shadow...she pivoted away from everything that had made it so great in the first place. While Born To Die is a mostly chamber-pop record, Ultraviolence veers into psychedelic rock and at points even grunge territory. It's a much harder record, both sonically and lyrically. It's a record full of contradictions that rub up against each other and spark as a result; doe-eyed love songs that carry a heavy undercurrent of violence and trauma (Ultraviolence), dedication that turn so easily into obsession and control (Brooklyn Baby, Shades of Cool). 

But perhaps the most stark contrast between the two works is its sonic setting. Born To Die was very much a record about New York, Lana's home state. It's an album that feels wholly at home in the city that never sleeps; from the Coney Island beach to the sparkling seas of the Hamptons. By contrast, Ultraviolence sees Lana step out on the open road to the West Coast, it's an album that pays tribute to LA and California and artists like the Beach Boys and The Doors. 

Basically, Lana Del Rey debuted as a pop star. Ultraviolence is, in large part, a post-modern artistic statement about turning away from pop music, embracing something much weirder, darker and harder to define. 

MORE: Lana Del Rey's Official biggest albums in the UK revealed

2. Born To Die set Lana up as a pop star - Ultraviolence burns that possibility to the ground and salts the earth

Lana Del Rey never seemed content to act as a stereotypical pop star. Even thought that was never her MO (even her biggest hit in the UK, the Cedric Gervais remix of Summertime Sadness, was created without her permission), it was perhaps easier for critics and fans at the time to call Lana a pop star.

But that came with its downfalls too, as it was then much easier to try and fit Lana into the pop star mould, and begin to pick her apart when she inevitably failed to fit into these defined boundaries. So much chatter around Born To Die came to Lana's own autonomy in her work; Lana Del Rey wasn't her real name (hello to Elton John! Bob Dylan! Lady Gaga!), she was a construct, a ruse, an industry plant who wasn't as involved in her own songs as was made out. 

Ultraviolence, both in content and context, is a direct response to those critics. It's a Lana Del Rey album where the construct and persona of Lana Del Rey is slowly stripped away. You could argue that this has always been Lana's plan, as with every album following Ultraviolence, her work has become less defined by aesthetic and melody. She is, right now, basically making folk and jazz records, with each one bringing us a little further away from Lana Del Rey and a little closer to Lizzy Grant. This arguably started, and was done best, in Ultraviolence. 

It was a change so shocking and so needed, it could have only happened on an artist's second album, when all bets should be off and caution thrown to the wind. 

Lana herself explains it best on Brooklyn Baby, the most direct response to the critics who tried to mansplain her existence away; "You never liked the way I said it, if you don't like then forget it, because I don't have to f*cking explain it."

3. Everything that made critics sit up and take notice of Lana on Norman F*cking Rockwell! was already present on Ultraviolence

It's now more or less agreed that Lana is one of the most talented songwriters of her generation. This title, never in doubt by fans, was initially bestowed upon her by the critics and press during the cycle for her breezy and authoritative sixth album Norman F*cking Rockwell! (another UK Number 1), which in many ways acts as a sister record to Ultraviolence. 

But everything that critics found so enticing about NFR! - its California-centric production, its lyrics that both decried the world and sought for a way to find harmony and peace amidst the chaos - were actually already present in Ultraviolence, but maybe people weren't ready to hear it yet. 

But that has, really, been the MO of Lana's entire career. She has always been a generation-defining talent, just look at Video Games, or National Anthem. The material has always been there, the material has always been good (she hasn't claimed six UK Number 1 albums for nothing!) but circumstances outside of Lana's control always seemed to hinder her getting the respect she rightfully, truly deserved. 

Ultraviolence may once again reach the UK Top 10 for the first time in nearly a decade tomorrow because a beloved alternate cover has been re-released in anticipation of the record's upcoming tenth anniversary. But Ultraviolence still feels so relevant to listeners today because it's defined by its desire to push Lana into new territory. No-one would have blamed Lana Del Rey if, following the success of Born To Die and its surrounding controversies, she had either never released anything again, or came back with a slight twist on Video Games every two years. She didn't want to do that. Ultraviolence is bold, it's aggressive, it's violent, sadistic and brutal in places. 

It burned everything to the ground and salted the earth so nothing could grow again. Because only when you reach the bottom, can you build something new, something better, from the ashes of what came before.

Ultraviolence is out now via Interscope.

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i had no idea about this but i bought a cd copy of it anyway because it’s just a great album all around. guess it’s perfect timing on my behalf 😅 west coast is actually my favourite song of hers, it’s a beautiful tune