June 26, 2014 by Sterling.Becker
Elizabeth Grant, better known to the general public as Lana Del Rey, polishes her songwriting but can’t seem to stay away from abusive relationships on her album “Ultraviolence,” released June 16 in the United States by Interscope Records and Polydor.
Ever since her major-label debut album “Born to Die” was released in 2012, Del Ray has been quite busy. She released an eight-track EP titled “Paradise” and has been on tour the past two years. Collaborations have been sporadic, including one with New York rapper ASAP Rocky in a leaked track originally intended for production duo The Kickdrums’ mixtape. She also sang on Bobby Womack’s track “Dayglo Reflection.” Del Rey has also lent her voice to the soundtracks of “The Great Gatsby” and Disney’s “Maleficent” — to the former, with the hit “Young and Beautiful.”
“Ultraviolence” sees a major change in production style compared to its predecessors. Del Rey ditches the beautiful orchestral strings and hip-hop styling of producer Emile Haynie, who produced the entirety of “Born to Die,” for the blues vibes of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. Auerbach has previously done production for various genres, from artists like Ray LaMontagne to Mos Def. The guitar-focused production fashions an atmosphere that melds perfectly with Del Rey’s unique vocals.
Del Rey’s album opens strongly with the six-and-a-half minute “Cruel World,” which sets the scene of things to come on this album. Del Rey’s first lyrics are “I shared my body and my mind with you, but that’s all over now.” She reminds listeners she is indeed still crazy and is attracted to others that are equally unstable, but this relationship ends for the better. “Shades of Cool” is a song you’ll want to listen to on repeat for multiple reasons. The production starts with subtlety but breaks into an aggressive guitar solo, which contrasts sharply with her floating vocals.
The next track sounds as if it was written for an Urban Outfitters advertising campaign, because it is the quintessential hipster anthem: her boyfriend is in a band, she has a rare jazz collection and smokes the finest hydroponic weed. Del Rey is the definition of a “Brooklyn Baby.” The lead single “West Coast” takes Del Rey across the country, leaving her man behind in this surf rock tune. The excitement and energy that “West Coast” carries does not translate past it. The second half of the album, with the exception of “Florida Kilos” on the deluxe version, disappoints. It provides slow, depressing ballets that make the listener want to sleep through the rest of “Ultraviolence.”
Lana Del Rey’s lyrics, song structure and production have all vastly improved from her debut, yet the album still feels like it’s missing something. It could be that there are no real standout tracks like there were on “Born to Die,” which had four songs receive gold certification along with inspiring a myriad of electronic dance music remixes. Maybe it’s the mystique of a debut and not knowing where the future would lead after “Born to Die” that created the cautious optimism that “Ultraviolence” would ultimately lead to more of the same. She may have changed her sound, but only time will tell if it’s for the better.