Some people think the image is contrived, but it's what drew me to her when her second album, 'Born to Die,' came out in 2011. She made it okay to be privileged and dark, pretty and depressed. She made it okay to romanticize money, drugs and power. She made it okay to be feminine and submissive. Her ballads made it okay to succumb to the misery of heartache without trying to give me a pep talk.
She may not be the first singer to do the sexy melancholy thing, but she does it well and she does it consistently. On her latest album, `Ultraviolence,' she stays true to the themes and imagery that worked so well on `Born to Die'"”sadness, drugs, bad boys, vulnerability, fame, troubled women, death, longing and so forth.
Sonically, `Ultraviolence' is similar to `Born to Die.' Throughout all of the album's eleven tracks, Del Rey sticks to the sultry vocals; moody, mid-tempo pace; haunting, airy melodies, and light (decade-non-specific) vintage feel that proved to be a winning formula on her sophomore album.
The difference between `Born to Die' and `Ultraviolence' is that, across the board, the former was simply a lot more fun to listen to than her latest effort. The songs on `Born to Die' weren't necessarily faster, edgier or any less soaked in melancholy than those on `Ultraviolence." There was, however, more diversity and distinction in sound from track to track. There were catchier hooks as well"”still dark and brooding, but catchy nonetheless. On `Born to Die,' nearly every track was infectious and had some element that made it stand out from the first time you listen to it. `Ultraviolence,' apart from the first single, "West Coast," which is both powerfully atmospheric and sing-along-able, sort of sounds like elevator music the whole way through, and its title track, surprisingly, is actually the blandest of the bunch.
Another notable difference between Del Rey's last two albums is that her most recent release doesn't feature any hints of influence from other genres. `Born to Die' featured creative touches of hip-hop and blues, but with the exception of "Pretty When You Cry," which has an unexpected electric guitar line towards the end, 'Ultraviolence' doesn't do that.
On `Ultraviolence' Del Rey isn't trying to experiment with a new sound, transcend genres or shock anyone with drastic style changes of any sort. While that's commendable, showing that she's comfortable in her own skin and confident in her music, on this album the tried and true formula eventually begins to sound lazy.
Del Rey continues to find beauty in bad relationships and broken hearts, and `Ultraviolence' is without a doubt a beautiful collection of songs, but ultimately it's beautiful background music and not an album that effortlessly commands your attention the way her work has done in the past.