Release Date: Jul 21, 2017
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
In an age where pop stars are constantly pressured to change, challenge and reinvent their sound, Lana Del Rey's commitment to melancholia is laudable. She has painted pictures of perfumed romance, ultraviolence, Californian beach fronts and thrilling affairs in the same potent shades we have grown accustomed to for the past half-decade. Commenting recently on fan speculation of a continued narrative between album covers, she noted "I like having a narrative in a track listing, and continuity with a discography." This dedication to a personal plot keeps fans manically anticipating new music and easily intrigues newcomers.
She may be smiling, decked in a floral crown and posed in front of an old pickup truck like some sort of pop country clone, but Lana Del Rey is as moody as ever on her new album, Lust For Life. There are a thousand things that set Del Rey's fourth album apart from the rest of her contemporaries. Accompanied by what sounds like an orchestra played entirely by ghosts, her use of electronic trappings never feel overwhelming or fake.
Over the course of three major label albums, Lana Del Rey has made a name for herself as pop's most adept unwrapper of darkness. Adopting the hazy, barbiturate-spiked drawl of a bored megastar from a glamorous era bygone, singing of seedy dalliances, substance abuse, death, toxicity and the persistent tug of destructive love, she became an artist with a clear, distinct niche; but perhaps one that limited possibilities when it came to finding room for expansion. 'High By The Beach' - which appeared on her 2015 album 'Honeymoon,' and stood out as a misfit moment of brilliance - was perhaps the first indication of where things might go next.
On her new record, Lust For Life, the queen of elegant nonchalance, shows she's in no hurry for the summer to end while she leisurely enjoys the fruits of her creative labor. Del Rey's music is a casual invitation for her listeners to share in her carefree sense of abandon and join in her wounded quest for love, adventure and after-parties. Lana has an uncanny ability to make the mundane sound magical, just so long as you're young enough to fully enjoy it and wealthy enough to be able to afford the ride.
Wherever you stand on Lana Del Rey's first three records, you couldn't really claim she gave too much away on them. What's harder to discern is where exactly she draws the lines between her actual private life and the version of herself that she projects through her music. That is, if it can be considered 'herself' at all; back in 2012, when 'Video Games' had blown up and Born to Die topped the charts around the world, certain sections of the press broke the news that she was actually plain old Lizzy Grant and that this wasn't her first musical rodeo as if it was some earth-shattering revelation that a successful musician had once been anything but, and that an artist might take a stage name rather than go by their own.
Lana Del Rey is many things to many people, not least herself. She is at once the doomed starlet, a Trump-hexing love witch, a 'gangster Nancy Sinatra' and, most importantly, a hugely successful global recording artist with four major label albums under her slinky belt. Her moody, vintage-indebted sound is now so distinct that it's practically its own sub-genre, defined by its drowsy doo-wop stylings, laced with trap production and film-score- worthy theatrics.
It's better than I ever even knew Del Rey's vintage look and feel has always seemed like a gimmick. She wants us to imagine flower-haired children running barefoot through the grass, protesters brandishing acoustic guitars while passing a joint around, and pin-up models helping an entire gender break free from repression. Basically, she's one of the best 1960s pop stars to be born in 1985, now playing the part of hipster fodder at age thirty two.
M ost pop stars innovate every album cycle, a fraught hustle that is of a piece with this era's frantic audio production values. That's all beneath Lana Del Rey. The ageless 32-year-old arrived at a languid sound, a detached authorial voice and a set of obsessions on her 2012 debut Born to Die, and her fourth album remains true to them all. One fine track sums up her entire oeuvre: the title of Summer Bummer reflects the consistently high mercury of Del Rey's mises-en-scène; and there is usually a worm at the centre of her perfect peach.
L ana Del Rey is smiling on the cover of her new album. Quite the radical move considering her default expression has ranged from seductive glower to wounded pout. Such is her brand loyalty to pained poise and misery, the joyful precision on Del Rey's 2017's face seems almost ironic. According to a recent interview with NME, however, the smile is symbolic of a new artistic chapter.
We were instantly entranced when Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" surfaced six summers ago--candid but aloof, artfully homemade, haunted in tone with a video that felt like a message in a bottle washed ashore for reasons yet unknown. Del Rey didn't give easy answers, but we still asked all the wrong questions in return, demanding clearer demarcation between the woman born Elizabeth Grant, the character known as Del Rey, and the millennial-outreach focus groups we presumed to have masterminded the whole thing. It's a drag to rehash the Born to Die discourse now--a conversation so tediously narrow over a body of work that would prove, over the next five years, to be thrillingly rich.
“I could watch, through the songs, my life start to come back to me.” – Stevie Nicks, “Dreams Unwind: Lana Del Rey In Conversation with Stevie Nicks” I never expected that Lana Del Rey’s voice would be one of reassurance. Lust For Life is still her, the Best God Bless American Girl, but with her inner well-being coming together just as the United States affective sphere is coming apart, her fixed position feels more a lantern now than a siren. Where before she had regarded the cruel optimism of 2012 with a ghost’s longing, she’s now ready to make promises at present.
Lana Del Rey will likely go down as one of the most iconic pop stars of the 2010s, not least because of the questions she raises (and the anxieties she provokes) about authenticity, irony, and nostalgia. Throughout her already storied career, it has been ambiguous which aspects of her persona are “genuine”, and which, if any, are presented with a sly, knowing wink. At first, critics did not quite know what to make of this facile conundrum, and early readings of Del Rey’s 2012 debut Born to Die tore into the album for its apparent artifice.
Since Lizzy Grant emerged as Lana Del Rey back in 2012, she's been donning the trope of the Hollywood starlet with a darkness surrounding her. On Lust For Life, to some degree that gloom has lifted: it's perhaps for the first time we're really seeing the Lizzy behind the Lana. The Lana Del Rey persona is something that helped Grant stand out when she first burst on the scene with "Video Games" in 2012.
In some ways, Lana Del Rey straddles the divide between the popular mainstream and the more interesting, experimental ethos of the independent music scene. Part stylised hit maker, part damaged alternative icon, she is simultaneously both accessible and mysterious. From a wealthy New York background, Del Rey – or Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, to give her real name – first came to prominence in the UK with the elegantly powerful Video Games, a YouTube sensation which set the template for the singer-songwriter's signature sound: cinematic, vulnerable torch songs heavily indebted to early 1990s trip hop, delivered in a smoky, soulful voice.
Lana Del Rey knows perfectly well her Lust for Life sounds sleepy in comparison to Iggy Pop's full-blooded roar, but that doesn't mean the title of her fourth album is ironic. Compared to her previous albums, especially its somnolent 2015 predecessor, Honeymoon, Lust for Life is positively ebullient in tone, if not in tempo. Lana Del Rey may sing about a "Summer Bummer" but the song isn't in sway to a narcotic undertow; it simmers, offering a cool bit of seduction for muggy August nights.
Lana Del Rey has become a hugely adored miserablist thanks to a perpetually wounded voice and plainspoken poetry. Her fourth album as Lana Del Rey luxuriates in warm textures and laconic tempos that recall pre-rock-era pop, her voice given Rick Nelson levels of reverb that adds ruminative weight to even her most basic observations. Shying away from the big riffs of 2013's Ultraviolence and the glossy noise of 2015's Honeymoon, Lust for Life is almost like a fan service album, solidifying the idea of Del Rey as a trapped-in-space pop star of yore who happened to touch down in Los Angeles in the era of streaming music and sponsored afterparties.
Modern pop's patron saint of American fatalism has found happiness at the precise moment that her nation has discovered a propensity for hopelessness—an irony that isn't lost on the singer-songwriter. Lust for Life, Lana Del Rey's most ambitious album to date, is a sprawling contemplation of her aesthetic and its various dissonances. It's overextended at almost 75 minutes, but even in its flaws is the sense that Del Rey is working to disillusion her earlier work's fetish of a tainted Americana.
We as music critics need to stop applying the overused term "victory lap" to Everyone Who Succeeds; what is the victory over exactly? Succeeding is not the same thing as overcoming adversity, and frankly, we could stand to pay less attention to the narrative an album is supposed to fit into and more to whether or not the music is as consistently rich as the press potential is, which includes year-end list grooming. Gigantic "That said…" coming up: THAT SAID, Lana Del Rey is an artist who ceases to exist without the narrative, lives and dies by it lyrically, and also has something to overcome. The biggest cult artist of the 2010s (don't lie to yourself) was more or less cyberbullied from the moment Hipster Runoff incorrigibly referred to her as DSL Soundsystem.
To say I have a personal stake in Lana Del Rey's activity as an artist is an aggressive understatement. Lana's music has fueled my slumbers, workouts, shower concerts and friendships. Honeymoon is the album I listen to on international flights when the fear of tumbling into the Bermuda triangle paralyzes my ability to reason. Ultraviolence was the soundtrack to an electric summer in Boston.
Few active pop stars are as fiercely on-brand as Lana Del Rey. If the signature style of America’s 21-century chanteuse isn’t your cup of tea, then steer clear of her fourth album Lust for Life. But if you count yourself among Del Rey’s disciples, get excited. Lust for Life is a whole lotta Lana.
Lana Del Rey's albums are swanning, magisterial projects, as long as some films, except that films have multiple characters. Her stage has just one spotlight; the plot usually traces doomed loves and open roads, rarely interpolating an event more current than the Kennedy assassination. They’ve been an impractical outlet for social commentary, to say the least.