Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence': What the Critics Are Saying

6:27 PM PST 06/17/2014 by Roy Trakin
Interscope Geffen A&M Records

Sophomore album proves the chanteuse has created a strong identity, thanks to a back-to-basics production by Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.

Ultraviolence, Lana Del Rey's follow-up to her controversial 2012 Polydor/Interscope debut, Born to Die, once again adopts the pose of "the hyper-stylized post-modern glamour queen we've all come to love and/or hate," in the words of Billboard's Kenneth Partridge. "She sings about drugs, cars, money and the bad boys she's always falling for, and while there remains a sepia-toned mid-century flavor to many of these songs, LDR is no longer fronting like a thugged-out Bette Davis."

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This time around, Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach is producing, and his "back-to-basics rock 'n' roll aesthetic serves these tracks well … [offering] a more sedate take on the Born to Die template, lightening the orchestrations, ditching the hip-hop beats, and presenting Lana as a perpetually scorned pop-noir fugitive — part Neko Case, part Katy Perry."

As always, though, the pouty diva, offering a blank facade for the rest of us to fill in our own desires, has polarized the critics.

Count Entertainment Weekly's Kyle Anderson as one of her admirers. In his A-review, he says Stanley Kubrick — who adapted Andrew Burgess' dystopian fantasy A Clockwork Orange, from where the album presumably gets its title — would have "loved Del Rey … a highly stylized vixen who romanticizes fatalism to near-pornographic levels, creating fantastically decadent moments of film noir melodrama." He goes on to say, "Del Rey's dark urges — for love, for money, for pure pleasure — don't evoke the Clockwork droogs as much as they do Tom Cruise's Dr. Bill Harford from Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut Ultraviolence is the masked bacchanalia that finally unleashes the full potential lurking beneath the hype."

The L.A. Times' Randall Roberts claims, in his three- (out of four) star review, Ultraviolence "preaches a cut-throat approach to finding and retaining bliss. … Musically and lyrically, Del Rey possesses a pure kernel of individualism that's not only admirable, but worthy of celebration. No one else sounds like her." He calls the album "a kind of willfully woozy series of contradictions that combine to create a convincing argument."

If you're looking for "authenticity" in Lana Del Rey, Pitchfork's Mark Richardson suggests you've come to the wrong place.  He says, "She's become a screen onto which we project our desire and/or loathing. With Ultraviolence, Del Rey has found new synergy between the character she presents to the world and the content of the songs… [it] sounds tragic and beautiful — darkly shaded ballads are what she was created to make, and this album is nothing but, a Concept Album from a Concept Human," calling her singularity sui generis. "She's a pop music original full-stop, and there are not nearly enough of those around."

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The New York Times' Jon Pareles, in an interview piece, says Ultraviolence "reaches deeper into her slow-motion sense of time, her blend of retro sophistication and seemingly guileless candor. It also moves gracefully between heartache and sly humor, sometimes within the same song."

Del Rey became an actress as much as a singer, says Chicago Tribune's  Greg Kot in his tepid review, describing her as the "gangster Nancy Sinatra," calling Ultraviolence "all over-the-top, exacerbated by its narcotized atmosphere: druggy, draggy tempos and druggier singing… [it] almost qualifies as a parody. Unfortunately, there's not enough punch in the songs to make listeners care whether she's joking or not."

Continuing in that vein, on the less forgiving side of the polarizing attitudes she evokes, New York Daily News' longtime pop scribe Jim Farber proves a hater. "Her nearly comatose vocals make it sound like she just slipped herself a roofie, saving whatever sicko she seeks the trouble … In Del Rey's case, the sound is so dense it threatens to asphyxiate the singer, which may just be the point. Everything about her work plays into fantasies of a potentially fatal manipulation." He concludes with the nonbeliever's view of the LDR phenomena: "Ultimately, she's milking classic male fantasies of the sad Marilyn Monroe, the babe in distress who can only be saved by you — and your dollars."

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