When Lana Del Rey first burst onto the music scene in late 2011, she immediately became one of the most exciting and divisive figures in pop music. While some felt that she was formulaic and unoriginal, others claimed she was an unexpected voice for a generation fueled by apathy, loneliness, and an insatiable appetite for self-destruction. Up until now, Del Rey seemed uniquely fascinating, possibly even poised to become one of the great artists of our time. All of this and more is why her newest album, Ultraviolence, is such a disappointment. In 2014, Del Rey seems unwilling to grow, delivering a record that feels like a pale imitation of its predecessor.
To be clear, Ultraviolence is in no way a train wreck, and some will probably enjoy its familiar qualities. But the reason Ultraviolence fails is because it lacks the boldness and raw intensity of 2012’s masterful Born to Die. The production is still high quality, albeit a bit watered down, and her voice is still excellent; however, it’s hard not to become frustrated by the formulaic feeling of it all.
There are a few moments on Ultraviolence that do feel fresh and new and serve as good reminders of what was so intoxicating about Del Rey in the first place. “West Coast” is the album’s clear standout track; it explores new territory while sounding like a song that only Del Rey could make. At her best, Del Rey has shown she can be an artist that is unafraid to explore humanity’s dark side while effortlessly putting listeners under her spell. Sadly, Ultraviolence could have been a step forward; instead Del Rey seems too afraid to move in any direction at all.