Admittedly, while Del Rey certainly has the captivation and languish laden melodramatics it's not strange to wonder if that can translate well into Auerbach inspired psychedelic production.
Here's how my review will work. All of the tracks will be judged individually; cohesion will determine the grade of the album later. Obvious factors like singing ability and the instrumental of the song will be included as well.
# of tracks- 11 (this is the standard U.S. edition I'm reviewing.)
# of interludes- 0
Total time of album- 51:24
1. "Cruel World"- It's clear that Auerbach or someone on his team told him who Del Rey is; the instrumentals are surprisingly complimentary to her languid and longing style. At times, the drum production is a touch louder than she is. Still, hypnotizing and pleasant vocals make this a good cut of the overall project. Granted, this is nowhere near indicative of her overall work on this effort. (When she sings the word "candy", it's clear the Electra Complex is alive and well in this one. O_O)
2. "Ultraviolence"- One of the four released singles from the album [3rd overall]. The piano work fits her presentation value. This does serve as a reminder that she's more damaged yet alluring when singing than haunting and "weird". Disconcerting lyrics include "you hit me and it felt like a kiss" and her Electra Complex in Spanish "yo soy la princesa". As eye-popping as those are to hear, this is oddly fitting considering her past works.
3. "Shades of Cool"- Another of the four released singles [2nd overall]. The album version and the version on her YouTube/VEVO channel are radically different. The online version is much darker in instrumental value. The album version while lighter (For Del Rey, mind you) utterly defeats the captivation of the song even though this is the most coquettish/coo-like vocals she's probably allowed herself to do on a major label work. Still, out of the songs so far this one is the most hypnotic [she's really good at singing any lyric with the color "blue" mentioned].
4. "Brooklyn Baby"- Another of the four singles released [4th overall]. The single in other reviews were met with lukewarm reception. Even though it fits her style, others have inferred that of the released singles, this was the weakest. The song itself is more indicative of Del Rey's captivating melancholy than what has been released of the album. The instrumentals on this song seem a bit brooding 90s as opposed to the psychedelic 60s brief the production team wanted to stick to. Not that it's the worst thing ever; it still does its job of assisting in Del Rey's alluring vocals.
5. "West Coast"- The lead single of the four released. Let's take time to celebrate the fact that this went to #17 on the Hot 100. Meaning that aside from "Young and Beautiful" and no remix version, this is her highest charting single in the U.S. There is a huge reason why it's this song. That reason being it is the weirdest and grooviest song of Del Rey's works to date. The single represents the surprising fit of Auerbach's production with Del Rey's style. The vocals on this are so smooth and is most likely the strongest projection of her voice in her entire career thus far.
6. "Sad Girl"- This song does indicate that maybe this was recorded the day of or right after "Cruel World" or even maybe "Shades of Cool". O_O The self effacing [maybe even self deprecating] tone of the song's chorus is a bit caddywhompus (Meaning slightly off; just in case I sound like I'm taking the SATs). Even though it has the stylistic graces of her works past and even present, something about this seems rather too plebian/philistine/glib/simplistic/blatant. A more nuanced/subtle chorus would've fit the song better.
7. "Pretty When You Cry"- The song starts off with Del Rey assuming the "wounded" one a little too melodramatically. This is reminiscent of the Garbage song "Only Happy When it Rains" once the chorus kicks in. It suffers from the same pitfall of the previous track; a bit too blatant for an artist known for being nuanced and theatrical when singing. Part of this could be blamed on the production, but it isn't saying this is a bad song. It's just not the strongest indicator/litmus test of Del Rey.
8. "Money Power Glory"- The song registered as a Del Rey take on the Janis Joplin song "Mercedes Benz". Knowing full well she really doesn't want Money, Power or Glory in reality but is probably castigating modern society's "excess is best" nature. Interestingly, this is weirdly reminiscent of Born to Die production; did this song miss the cut?; was it reworked for Ultraviolence? That can't be said anywhere let alone this review. What can be said is that the song is a touch "try-hard" to be deep, but I'm not blaming Del Rey herself at all.
9. "Fucked My Way Up to the Top"- Winner of most eye-popping single on Ultraviolence. Profane language sounds beautiful out of her (And Lily Allen and RaVaughn) so the title isn't the problem. The song itself is hampered by whether or not Del Rey is telling us through song that she has a salacious alter-ego she sang about first on Born to Die ["Carmen"]; or if this is "Carmen" herself singing (Making this the weirdest take on the Beyoncé/Sasha Fierce trope.) Not that it isn't terrible; at the very least, this adds to the atmospheric quality of the album. A story is being told even if it does sound a bit fucking loony.
10. "Old Money"- The song at first registers as the most minimalist in terms of sonic [sound] quality. Vocally, this is perhaps the safest vocal Del Rey has laid on a track. It's her cover of "Blue Velvet" level subtle compared to at least the rest of this album. The orchestral arrangement sounds fantastic, but the themes of psychedelia haven't shown up in the past 2 to 3 tracks. In terms of cohesion, this is not helping at all.
11. "The Other Woman"- The psychedelia is back. As wonderfully vintage as the song's instrumental is, it can't help but beg the question; which songs missed Ultraviolence altogether; no standard or deluxe version? Admittedly, this does come across as an acid-trip version of the The Wizard of Oz in terms of execution. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the pacing and cadence of the song went too fast. Psychedelia is supposed to be dealt with much like the substances the music came from; in "dabs". Meaning a dab will do; it is not quantity dependent*
*PSA Moment: Don't do drugs. Motivational groups are scheduled each and every time a young person touches the "illicits". Oh and it can kill you if you don't end up arrested and convicted on possession charges. Don't do drugs.*
Despite that, it is a decent closing track to an overall trippy sounding album.
OVERALL Grade: A very generous B+
Let's get the bad out of the way; cohesion matters and Ultraviolence doesn't fully deliver on that. 2-3 tracks don't have the intended album brief of 60s psychedelic inspiration; one of those tracks sounding like a "barely missed the list" of Born to Die. The "Shades of Cool" instrumental was not like the online version on the album and that really is unacceptable.
The good? For the most part, Auerbach's production of the album did fit Del Rey's style. None more beautiful than "West Coast" and even "Shades of Cool" despite the instrumental gripe. The allure of Del Rey is still as gripping as ever as her singing is some of the most distinctive in the modern field. Her vocals are able to fit the psychedelic briefs because of the theatrics she's known for delivering.
Ultraviolence is worth the buy, even if there are some disconcerting moments production wise.