Now it all makes sense: She simply needed time to develop, time for the music to catch up with her vision. When Lana Del Rey catapulted to pop stardom in the summer of 2011 with the song “Video Games,” her debut, “Born to Die,” arrived six months later in a blaze of buzz, but ended up sounding rushed and unfocused.
At least that was the criticism from those who loved the idea of Lana Del Rey (this critic included) but had higher hopes for her first full-length. It’s gratifying, then, to discover that “Ultraviolence,” her new sophomore album, is a staggering improvement over that initial release. Slavishly downbeat, it burrows even deeper into Del Rey’s torchy sensibility and rarely breaks its spell.
Working mostly with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as producer, Del Rey imbues this record with a narcotic resonance that gives the singer and her songs room to exhale, to swell and swirl into the stratosphere. “West Coast” has a noirish sensuality, which opens into a chorus that mimicks the heady rush of a first toke.
Elsewhere, Del Rey relishes her role as the patron saint of the broken-hearted (“Pretty When You Cry,” “Sad Girl”). She even pokes fun at her detractors, keeping her tongue firmly in cheek on “[Expletive] My Way Up to the Top,” while “Money Power Glory” lampoons the perception that that’s all she wants.
As an opener, “Cruel World” is the album in miniature:
a 6½-minute spiral into the ornate, emotional decay where Del Rey seems to thrive. It unfolds in slow motion —
ESSENTIAL “Cruel World”