Lana Del Rey has always reminded me of the taste of flat lemonade. She’s bitter yet blunted, the dampener of her own acidity, and best consumed with some naivety. I’ve always loved the taste. In 2012, Born to Die pronounced Lana Del Rey as the self-crowned queen of melodrama. Since then, three albums have passed. Through grainy vocals and emotionally battered narration she has become the glamoriser of the depressive, and yet simultaneously forced smiles in the face of the shattered American dream. Lust for Life marks the fifth studio album of this narrative.
Some have gone so far as to say that Lust for Life marks the beginning of a new age of Lana. She’s grinning on the album cover for a start. A radical statement given that her last three album covers, when arranged horizontally, create a triptych titled The Headshots of the Despondent.
So, what’s new? Firstly, there’s the long guest list – this is not the one-woman Lana show we’re used to. A synoptic duet with The Weeknd is a title track which, amid all the engineered catchiness and electric beats, exudes a degree of genuineness and gold. Appearances from A$AP Rocky and Playboi Cati help lift Lana out from bottomless melancholic chasm of video-gaming, and give her tracks a bit more substance. Sean Lennon features too. As does a wealthy scattering of nods to music’s past – ‘Lust for Life’ is stolen straight from Iggy Pop, “Don’t worry baby” from The Beach Boys, and “I’ll be your tiny dancer” from an embarrassing teenage journal amongst other places.
But this album isn’t just Lana crooning over vintage vinyl, doing what she’s been known to do best – singing sad songs, thinking about sad boys, taking sad drugs. In Lust for Life, Lana seems to look beyond internal angst for lyrical inspiration. Somewhat watery and self-indulgent vibes dissipate, dejection and cynicism remains.
‘God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It’ is a call for unity. It’s a milky folk-like ballad, an anaesthetic for 2017 (a pretty grey year all-round for women and politics). Whilst penned before the Women’s Marches, Lana taps into the defiant fervour and solidarity that populated our streets last January – “I could tell they [the marches] were going to happen” she says. It’s a far cry from the women that starred in the chorus of ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’ of 2012, who viciously proclaimed: “we don’t stick together because we put love first”. Her ode to women is followed by ‘When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing’. It’s a lingering melody, with sinister light percussion, and a warning to stay alert during disorientating times – “Is it the end of America?” she asks. Copious amounts. More dazed and drugged each time.
Lust for Life ends on a chirpy note. The barebones piano track ‘Change’ doubles as an anthem of personal empowerment and, with a calm and danceable vibe, ‘Get Free’ is a modern manifesto, encouraging one to to stay positive and not turn into a gloomy piece of fruit. Something like that anyway. Whilst apprehensive about the future, Lana is resilient in taking a positive attitude towards it. It’s even kind of morale boosting, in a Lana kind of way.
But, despite all of this, the album still radiates the Del Rey trademarks we’ve come to expect. Often set in a pastel and chewy paradise, Lust for Life is a sensory overload for even the moderate stoic – sweet, rich and corrupting. Set in a background of heavy strings and tap drums, ‘Cherry’ is an invitation to picnic in the paradise of “cherries, wine, rosemary and thyme”. The album also begins with a song titled ‘Love’. Whilst the sunny strings make Lana sound as happy as we’ve probably ever heard her, she’s still just drooling over some guy. Adios, wider world-view.
All in all, the album tastes positively of Lana lemonade. There’s a subtle reinvention in terms of content – this is not just a constructed line of internal emotion, left purposely exposed to a naked flame, and smoked by Lana for the length of an album. Lust for Life goes beyond that, has a bit more edge, and brings in some optimism. But, at the same time, the tracks (particularly those at the beginning) still do feel as if they’ve been dunked in a pool of sepia ink, caked with sugar, and left to painfully dry on a suburban mantelpiece. Nevertheless, it’s October. And, if someone’s going to bring the summer drinks and disillusion wrapped in a honeycomb glaze to the party, it’s going to be Lana.