Ed Sheeran, “X” (Atlantic )
If his slow-burning 2011 debut hit “+” helped break the British singer-songwriter thanks to the hit “The A Team,” this new CD will be remembered for Sheeran letting loose his inner soulman and MC. It actually works, thanks to his keening croon and the work of an array of producers, including Rick Rubin and Pharrell.
While many of the spare acoustic tracks creep up on you with their tunefulness — including burbling opener “One” and the haunting “Photograph” — others take charge right out of the gate. “Sing” has a similar danceable snap as producer Pharrell’s own “Happy.” “Don’t,” a scathing, cuss-laden takedown of a paramour who betrayed Sheeran while they were staying in the same hotel, is his masterstroke, combining a singer-songwriter’s eye with a contemporary groove for lacerating-but-danceable results.
Sarah Rodman, Boston Globe
Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence” (Interscope)
Filled with the kind of distant seduction that has made her one of the most polarizing pop stars in recent memory, Del Rey’s follow-up to her multi-platinum “Born to Die” is rife with incitements and further defines her provocative philosophy. Here, she preaches a cut-throat approach to finding and retaining bliss. Put on a red dress on the album’s opener, “Cruel World,” seduce a famous man with “a little bit of bourbon” and tell him you’re crazy. Examine domestic violence on the title track but include more questions than answers.
Desire is the most potent drug on this 11-song album featuring Del Rey’s trademarked tone and languorous approach that will sound either lethargic to the point of nodding off or blissfully relaxing. Love her or hate her, Del Rey possesses a pure kernel of individualism: No one else sounds like her.
Produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, the album doubles down on what she has aptly described as “narco-swing.” The tension will swirl as Del Rey’s voice roams, stronger and more assured than on her last record.
Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times