Best of the B Sides: “Pretty When You Cry”

I am four months behind on Rolling Stone. I’m reading about the hits of the summer and how Coachella went. The stack under my desk is getting so tall and heavy it’s difficult to move. I have never been in this much of a magazine deficit in my life.

Because of this, Lana Del Rey is on my mind yet again. Not only did I just finish reading her profile in the late July Rolling Stone (whoops), but I’m listening to Ultraviolence (2014) again. When I decided to review it, I thought I was in for a trashing, bashing, no-holds-barred article. What I found was something quite different. Del Rey’s sophomore album was everything I’d wanted from her debut Born to Die (2012); cool, unselfconscious, and unpretentious (even when the term “beat poetry” comes up, which usually inspires eye rolls for me). Ultraviolence is a foggy, cheeky, dark, and slightly disturbing album that doesn’t contain a single radio hit. I’m partial to “West Coast,” the closest thing to a hit this album managed to produce, but mostly because it’s far from a radio hit. “West Coast” vacillates between two entirely different tones — that of the cool, sunglass-wearing contemplation versus the after-hours, bottom-of-the-glass philosophizing. I had doubts about Del Rey’s songwriting ability up until I heard that tone shift.

Besides “West Coast,” “Pretty When You Cry” takes Del Rey to a new level. The song is reminiscent of The Eagles with its “Hotel California“-ish guitar. Vocally, there’s a tint of Cat Power that is not unwelcome. The plaintive, whining singing Del Rey employs is neither out of place nor terribly annoying. It has an honest, desperate aspect to it that previously felt out of place and overdone in her music, but Ultraviolence gives her the space to play with these sounds and emotions in a new way. The bareness and smokiness of “Pretty When You Cry” is refreshing compared with how overprocessed and artificial her debut was (think of all the unnecessary strings on “Video Games“). The tone is far more mature than anything on Born to Die.

1 Comment

  1. Lauren Silvestri

    November 30, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I’m in love with Born to Die but I also really like Lana’s follow-up, which some viewed as underwhelming. This is a great track, but my favorite on the record is “Brooklyn Baby.”

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