That smile terrifies me, I mean after three albums where Lana Del Rey has looked moody, it is akin to a small creature that is going to attack you. But that is just my personal feelings there, so what is this album all? After the disappointing 'Honeymoon' (our review here) (I know I am the lone wind in the dark here, but that album was poor compared to 'Ultraviolence' (our review here)), Ms Del Rey first floated the idea of recording a new album at the end of 2015, where she stated that she was going in a different direction to 'Honeymoon', but keeping the same aesthetics. Executive produced by Ms Del Rey and with Rick Nowels, this multi-produced record (I know, I know) was recorded in seven different locations in the USA and the UK, giving the impression that album is an international record. The hype and reception that this album has received is deafening to these ears, so much so and after a lot of persistence/persuasion I have decided to have a look myself. Will this be another 'Honeymoon' or another 'Ultraviolence'?
01 – Love
A song about a former lover comes back and becoming your future, ponder the strange situations that people find themselves in, especially when you have a feeling that you are not really in love. Musically, it is an empty song with minimal music so you focus on the vocals, a huge chorus section so you notice the difference and some industrial noises every now and then. For a pop song, it has a minimalist industrial section at the core of its soul, it feels empty and cold with a lack of humanity and compassion seated right in core of the song.
02 – Lust for Life (Featuring The Weeknd)
Ok, this song is a paradox to me, you have a song about having a good time and the zeitgeist spirit of the party generation with a carefree attitude, but it sounds like the mood of the party is taking a downer. The vocals are fine, as is the music itself, but there is a clash between the words and the music that sounds like a car is crashing into a wall at one inch per hour. It is decent, but it is not the anthem that people are claiming it to be.
03 – 13 Beaches
The introduction to this song is provided by a full string section of an orchestra, some gentle pianos and then it becomes the moody synth pop about needing to be alone and trying to find a beach that is deserted. Now, this is the first song on the album to make sense, it is dealing with a depression caused by not having a place to hide and the need to run away, the music matches the words and it all comes into sharp focus by the end of the song. It is a beautiful, fragile song that will give people solace that others feel the same.
04 – Cherry
The world is so dark on this song, I mean this is not a happy place to be musical or spiritually. Everything is falling to the ground and nothing is working anymore, it is a dark and hollow place to be and I am not too sure what to make of this song. It does not explode at any point, it sorts of simmers along and the ending just sort of dissipates into nothing. It is stylistically competent, but what is it actually saying or doing?
05 – White Mustang
A song about remembering an old car, a past love and a whole torrent of emotions. This would be a moody number if it was only for one thing – it does not have any variation what so ever. There is no difference between the chorus, bridge, verse, any of it. It is over very quickly, which is a good thing. I think what makes this track very frustrating is the fact that the music is great, but it needed something else to make it special. Alas, it has turned out to be frustrating experience.
06 – Summer Bummer (Featuring A$AP Rocky & Playboi Carti)
This song is about wanting to stop being a pain in the arse, trying to be cool about everything, but admitting that underneath it all that there is something deep and dangerous between them. The guest performances from A$AP Rocky & Playboi Carti help this song, giving the song distinct section and it is such an improvement on ‘White Mustang’. There is a flow to the song, a natural ebb and flow which gives it a complete feeling, something that can sometimes be missing from this album.
07 – Groupie Love (Featuring A$AP Rocky)
Now this is a much better, so, so, so, so, so, so, so, so much better! It is all about a person who is obsessed with an artist and feeling as if everything that they do is directed at them. This song has everything that you want from a Lana Del Rey record: A little bit of a story, some interesting music, innovation and a guest that supports instead of smothering. It is one of the best songs on the album, because it has a bit of depth behind the music.
08 – In My Feelings
A song which is allegedly about Lana Del Rey’s relationship with rapper G-Eazy, this song is the sound of a woman scorned who is truly pissed off. It has a harsh feeling to the music, the lyrics and it vibrates fury – I think that someone crossed a path that they should have left alone. It is another song to add to the good pile, but I am not amazed by it. It is just nice to hear more than the absence of sound that haunted the early part of this album.
09 – Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind
This song is trying to make a statement, with fear at its heart. The song is about Ms Del Rey’s experience when she was at Coachella and was comparing it to the original Woodstock festival, but realising that the world she finds herself in is a hell of a lot different (to be honest, it is not – the USA was in a state of Cold War with the USSR). It has guilt as she was dancing whilst the tensions where rising with North Korea, awaking happened and she wanted to contribute to this situation. It is a messy song in places, the beats and strings clash in an uneasy way. It has good intentions, but the overall delivery is sub-par.
10 – God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women in It
Now this is a song with a message I can get behind (sort of). It is a pro-women song, one which is about the struggles of women and how they can feel unrepresented politically. But there is a determined spirit behind it, one which shines through and enlightens the listener. Two things though: One, it did not need the gunshots in it. Two, it is very home focused and that might not transcend well outside of the USA, no matter how innocent or heartfelt it was meant. But it is a good number, but that gunshots sound in the chorus ruins it a little for me.
11 – When the World Was at War, We Kept Dancing
Keeping the focus on America, this time the fear that everything is falling apart as it seems that the country is going to hell in a hand basket, Ms Del Rey is focusing on the scary parts of her country and it terrifies her. It is a dark song, one that demands answers and has an appeal which is not always there on this album. It goes back to the dark industrial sound, but with a few more layers to the music, adding a much needed depth to the sound and it creates a desolate song for the world to ponder what happens when a super power ends.
12 – Beautiful People Beautiful Problems (Featuring Stevie Nicks)
A song that was put together as producer Rick Nowels went to school with Stevie Nicks, so he arranged for this to happen as he wanted (and I am quoting here) to have a collaboration with two of the greatest female poets of song writing. I find understand that this is a big deal, they are both artists who bring a lot to the table. The song is a refreshing break from the minimalist breakbeats and industrial sounds of the album, giving a diversity to the record that has been missing. It is decent, but it feels as if Ms Del Rey is a second act on her own album with this number.
13 – Tomorrow Never Comes (Featuring Sean Ono-Lennon)
A song about feeling so low that you cannot help but fall apart, when everything has disintegrated and you are left in the ruin, surrounded by broken dreams. It was sent to Sean Lennon (you know who he is, if not – Wikipedia him, he is a talented artist who just happens to have famous parents) for vocals, he loved it so much that he re-did the music, I mean all the music and sent it back. It is a beautiful song, a fragile number that is head and shoulder above the rest of the record. It is the real deal, everything has a distinct place and boundary and it melts together to create the best song of the album.
14 – Heroin
A song about the dangers of Heroin, a song that should act like a dark warning about this drug that ruins lives. I must admit, I do hate it when songs use ‘Heroin’ as a title, as rightly or wrongly it adds glamour to this soul destructing drug. We are back in the dark, minimalist industrial sound that has been the calling card of the album, it matches the lyrics as the protagonist is growing tired of the hold that it has over them. Not going to lie here, whilst the music sounds good, I cannot get onboard with this song and it just fills me with an uncomfortable feeling each time I play it. Hopefully, she has not been using it and is just referring to it in a story manner, hopefully.
15 – Change
‘Change’ is a song about having that light bulb moment, when you realise that you want to remove the shot from your life and get ready to face the world in a positive way. It was one of the last song to be wrote for the album and it is one of the best statements on the record as well, with its simple and direct message that is draped over a simple piano based performance. I love the sound of this song, it has a finished feeling that makes it stand out from the madden crowd.
16 – Get Free
The end has arrived, the first word of the song is Finally and I can say that it feels like a relief when the guitar starts to play. The song has an up tempo beat, a positive message and it acknowledges the fact that Ms Del Rey can be her own personal rain cloud at times. It is good to hear that she wants change, that she knows how she can be seen and how she wants a better mindset for herself. I think that this song is as important as something like ‘When the World Was at War, We Kept Dancing’ as you need the yang to follow the ying. As they said in the film ‘The Crow’ – it can’t rain all the time. Both ‘Get Free’ and ‘Change’ end this song with a positive note that shines like twin gems in the night sky. I can see why these two have received so much praise.
There are a few things that I want to say in my summary here: Firstly, this is a good album, but nothing more than that (I await your arguments otherwise with suspense and interest). I have heard this sort of pop before by bands such as Sleeplust and they nailed it. Ms Del Rey on here seems to leave things slightly unfinished, with no sense of anticipation or rising the energy or pitch so there is not much difference between the verse, chorus or bridges. The music has an industrial feeling to it in places, a huge dash of modern hip hop, the guests do not really add too much to the overall ending, they mostly distract your attention from Ms Del Rey to be honest. Secondly, if there is an album in 2017 that needs a health warning to only listen to if you are in a good place, this is it. But Lana Del Rey has never been known for making positive records, she has always been known as the dark sirens of the modern age. Thirdly, I have realised once I had stopped away from the album for a bit, I figured out what had been bugging me about it (and Lana Del Rey as cultural phenomenon) – she is not a Pop artist. Let me explain, this is not a Pop album, apart from the fact it is popular. It is something else, something different and minimal with a hint of hip hop breakbeats and film noir. So, you cannot think of her in terms of Pop artists as she is not in that same category, mainly because she is offering something different to the Knowles’, Swift’s and Perry’s of the world. However, she is still not truly an artist in the same sense as Tom Waits, Nina Simone, Nick Cave, Stevie Nicks, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie and many more. She is heading in that general direction, but there is a long way to go. This album is a big improvement on ‘Honeymoon’, but it does not match the power behind ‘Ultraviolence’. So – to my verdict. I know I am the lone voice in the wind on this one, but this is not the best pop album of 2017, it is not the best album of 2017 – it is a good album, but it is not the be-all and end-all that everyone is hailing it to be. I am not saying it is awful, it is overlong (seriously, seventeen songs), clever album with dark pools, but there is nothing in the pools but darkness. When you do not have more than those minimalist pieces, it sorts of ends up just being a good record. That said, you are not going to hear a darker pop record this year, but do not let the hype take away from the fact it is style over content. One day she will make an album that conquers the world, I am sure of it, but this is not that record.
7 out of ten – This is good and worth checking out
Top track – Tomorrow Never Comes (Featuring Sean Ono-Lennon)
You can purchase Lust for Life on Amazon here.