When the video for her debut single ‘Video Games’ was released back in late 2011, Lana Del Rey went from being an almost complete unknown to being the critic’s darling overnight. Its slick, yet understated production coupled with the seemingly intimate lyricism resulted in the track placing highly in many ‘best of year’ lists. Fast-forward a few months to early 2012 and the release of her debut album was not met with quite such universal acclaim. Since the release of ‘Video Games’, rumours and exposes emerged that internet articles had dug up earlier attempts of pop stardom by the young Del Rey, then going by the name of Lizzy Grant. This revealed an altogether more acoustic and pop like delivery. Suddenly her ominous, foreboding and delicate singles no longer carried a sense of authenticity or sincerity. When the arrival of her second album ‘Ultraviolence’ (Interscope, 2014) was announced, a different sense of mystery and expectation was present, compared to the release of her first album.
Would Lana Del Rey reinvent a new image to accompany her new album? Or continue with her last reinvention; the Hampton vacationing, Pepsi Cola drinking, Lolita meets Jackie O channeling pop star for the 21st century? With ‘Ultraviolence’, it turns out that she’s still with us, but she feels and sounds a lot more comfortable on her own music. Whether Del Rey has become her creation, or simply has tried to perfect, is unclear. Gone is the rigid hip hop like production that slowed and dulled many of the ballads featured on her debut. Instead we are treated to a lush and atmospheric affair courtesy of production, handled by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. The soft yet direct drumming and hushed synths that accompany tracks such as ‘West Coast’ and ‘Cruel World’, combine with her whispered and echoing vocals to create an almost Phil Spector ‘Wall of Sound’ meets Hope Sandoval result. Lyrically, the album doesn’t stray too far from its predecessor. Just like ‘Born to Die’, the songs are still full of colourful references to American culture, brands and images that feel almost transported from the advertisements of an old 1960s magazine. Nowhere is this more evident in the gentle delivery of ‘Brooklyn Baby’.
On other songs, however, Del Rey is more open and personal than previously found. Perhaps she’s still in character but regardless, she doesn’t appear as distant or removed from the music on songs such as, ‘Guns and Roses’ or ‘Pretty When You Cry’ as she has done in the past. From time to time, her lyricism does become too reliant on the stereotypes that littered her debut. Upon reading the track list for the new album, song titles such as ‘Money Power Glory’ and ‘Fucked My Way up To the Top’ sounded full of pure Del Rey potential, however, in reality, they suffer from cliché and uninspired choruses. Like her debut, the strong song-writing and emotional production is hard to maintain and the first half of the album is arguably stronger than what follows.
After listening to the album you do get a sense of knowing Lana Del Rey on a far more personal level than she has previously allowed. Is this the real Lana Del Rey? That question still lurks behind the music, but it is a question that doesn’t sound quite so loud anymore.
Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey – 7/10