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Lana Del Rey's 'Ultraviolence' subtly packs its share of punches

 Singer Lana Del Rey performs onstage during day 3 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 13, 2014 in Indio, California.
Singer Lana Del Rey performs onstage during day 3 of the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at the Empire Polo Club on April 13, 2014 in Indio, California.Photo by Katie Stratton

"Ultraviolence" by Lana Del Rey

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Lana Del Rey is nothing if not dark and brooding.

On Tuesday, she released her new album Ultraviolence, the follow up to her successful major-label debut: 2012’s “Born to Die.” What was contained amongst the eleven tracks was a slow ride from the “West Coast” all the way to “Brooklyn Baby;” then off of a cliff of self-destruction.

This album embraces the free-spirited excess of the 1960’s counter culture, and mixes it with the rampant anti-feminism and even the sound of decades prior still.

Del Rey takes a controversial approach to subject matter, almost embracing the pain, abuse and degradation found in the lines of the title track and “Pretty When You Cry.” She revels in sin on “Money Power Glory” and “F****d My Way to the Top;” and seemingly welcomes the end on “West Coast.”

As was the case in her previous release, Del Rey represents the blending of a series of polar opposites. “Ultraviolence” is both self-assured and self-depreciating. Equal parts vain and vulnerable. The themes presented are both dangerous and powerful, but are subtly delivered with grace.

Where Ultraviolence separates itself from its predecessor is in the accompaniment. Thanks, in part, to producer Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame, this album loses the glossy sheen, tones down the strings and; ditches some of the pop accessibility, replacing it instead with guitars, stripped-down arrangements and the free-flowing sounds of 70’s psychedelic rock.

She often captures the vibe of the music she aims to emulate. One must only listen once to hear echoes of Shirley Bassey, Nancy Sinatra, The Mamas & the Papas and even Bob Dylan. She also (albeit not so subtly) pays homage to the likes of Nina Simone “The Other Woman”, The Crystals “Ultraviolence” and Lou Reed “Brooklyn Baby”.

The approach does come with a few shortcomings however. While the lyrics are clever, the vocals beautiful, and each song solid when taken by itself; the album is one low-tempo track after another. The lack of variance can make it a bit hard to sit through from start to finish.

Del Rey should be applauded for this soft-spoken tale of love “Shades of Cool”, longing “Sad Girl”, rap bravado “F****d My Way to the Top” and self-destruction “West Coast”. This album truly encapsulates the mantra of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. It is quick to light up a doobie, and burn down the world with its ashes.

At the same time, like many of the drugs of her heroes as Del Rey’s influences Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison found out the hard way, Ultraviolence may be best when taken in small doses.