Last Thursday, Elizabeth Grant, better known as Lana Del Rey, released her fifth studio album, Lust for Life. Although 2015’s Honeymoon may have left some tried-and-true fans like myself wanting more, Lust for Life offers all that we could ever want from Del Rey – and then some. In an amalgamation of her earlier, Born to Die (2011) days, and her darker, Ultraviolence (2014) tracks, Lust for Life unveils a less manufactured, more raw production that showcases a greater level of maturity and self-awareness in the songstress’ music, relying almost solely on the complexities of her wide-ranging, beautiful voice to elevate her art to new heights.
A few months ago, Del Rey stated that unlike her previous four albums, Lust for Life would be for her fans, offering hope towards the place “where…we are all headed.” Undoubtedly, the album presents a more optimistic, happier feel, and even features the singer flashing a big, bright smile on the album artwork. However, don’t be fooled — there are still melancholic songs aplenty on the album apt for moments when you need your “sad” music fix, but they are executed in a manner which seems to suggest that perhaps Del Rey doesn’t take herself all too seriously, after all. Her approach is still emotive, troubled, and complex, yet self-aware, grounded, and at times, even satirical.
She kicks off the album with “Love,” which was released as a single earlier this year along with an accompanying music video. At first listen, I wasn’t a huge fan of her lighter, airier persona, but after months of listening and watching her video, it’s difficult to refrain from cracking a smile or welling up in sappy tears at the simple celebration of youthful love. In the video, donning retro 60s garb with flowers in her hair, she sings about how the youth of today are “part of the past but now you’re the future,” mentioning that “signals crossing can get confusing.” Certainly, the intersection of time present and time past are common themes in all of her discography, and it continues to serve as a motif throughout Lust for Life.
“Love” is followed up with the incredibly underwhelming title track, “Lust For Life,” featuring a less-than-stellar collaboration with The Weeknd. Although the corresponding music video is interesting at best, the overall song, and especially The Weeknd’s performance, seem unnecessary and subpar in quality relative to the rest of the album. The pace starts to pick up with “13 Beaches,” which features a beautiful string orchestral introduction so signature to Del Rey’s works alongside beautiful, heartfelt lyrics. The track also features an audio snippet from 1962 horror film Carnival of Souls, precluding Del Rey’s poetic words. Her self-awareness and maturity shine through in lines such as “I’ve been dying for something real” and “I’d be lying if I kept hiding/ The fact that I can’t deal.” Rather than romanticize questionable lovers or role-play, Del Rey simply sings about her emotions — a refreshing approach on her end.
Next comes one of my favorites on this album, “Cherry,” which continues Del Rey’s tradition of sultry, somber love songs — albeit with an added twist of self-awareness and even humor. As she moans the word “love,” she captures the pain of such an emotion, and in between lines of admitting that she “fall[s] to pieces” when she’s with her lover, she mutters expletives like “fuck” and “bitch,” suggest an awareness of the damage and despair of her lovestruck state of mind. There’s a touch of cynicism added to the darkness and beauty of the music, an admittance of the pain that accompanies love — no longer just a matter of diamonds, sprees, and cola. If anyone misses the “old” Lana, blinded by love and highly questionable partners, do not fear — “Cherry” is followed by “White Mustang,” which features lyrics like “Everybody said you’re a killer/ But I couldn’t stop the way I was feeling/ The day your record dropped.” Her voice is the sole instrument in this song, and simple piano keys pair beautifully with her ethereal falsetto, resulting in a catchy and solid track.
“Summer Bummer” is incontestably the “fun” track of the album, featuring rappers A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti and boasting awesome beats while Lana croons about “white lies,” “black beaches,” “white lines,” and “blood red sangrias.” What more do you want from your “hip-hop in the summer”? The following track, “Groupie Love,” also features the incredible A$AP Rocky, but falls short in comparison the its preceding counterpart. Although “Groupie Love” seems promising at first, multiple listens strip away its novelty, leaving it lackluster amongst the rest of the gems on the album.
Luckily, “In My Feelings” quickly pivots Lust for Life back towards success, presenting Del Rey at perhaps her most sexy and sinister yet. With a muted intro similar to “Burning Desire” and a sense of self parallel to the one found in “Fucked My Way Up To The Top,” this song finds Del Rey owning her presence as a badass trailblazer, asking critics to answer “Who’s doper than this bitch? Who’s free-er than me?” Pairing lines like “I’m smoking while I’m runnin’” and “I’m crying while I’m cummin’” with a bubbly, airy beat, Del Rey feels no shame in feeling all of her “fucking feelings,” and we dutifully thank her for that. The next track, “Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind,” leads the album towards a more political tone while also emphasizing the songstress’ tendency to incorporate constructed memories of the past with her present. As an aside, the performer with the divine voice singing on his knees that she is alluding to is definitely Father John Misty (see photo evidence here). Don’t believe me? — she even left a little dedication to him and his wife, Emma, in the credits to the album.
The political overtones are continued in “God Bless America — And All The Beautiful Women In It,” with acoustics reminiscent of ABBA’s “Chiquitita” and optimistic lyrics that seem to suggest that the glorified America in Del Rey’s prior songs has finally come face to face with the difficult sociopolitical landscape of 2017. Surprisingly, the songstress offers a bittersweet cocktail of nostalgia and optimism in the following track, “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing.” She initiates the track with a sad, emotive plea, singing, “Girls, don’t forget your pearls, and all of your horses” — evoking memories of lost innocence and the forced realization that this could be “the end of an era” and “the end of America.” However, Del Rey offers the idea that “it’s only the beginning” for the blossoming of the nation, continuing her optimistic, and possibly slightly naïve, streak.
In a series of solid collaborations, the album features “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” with 70s queen Stevie Nicks, showcasing a fantastic duet with the two dreamy singers. Next is “Tomorrow Never Came,” a duet with Sean Ono Lennon that sounds like it could have been composed in the middle of the Haight-Ashbury district by two wide-eyed lovers-turned-songwriters in the 60s. Del Rey subtly sneaks in her own realization of how lucky and surreal her life is to be working with the offspring of two of her most admired artists (who sounds so much like John, it’s scary), singing “Lennon and Yoko, we would play all day long/ ‘Isn’t life crazy?,’ I said, now that I’m singing with Sean.”
Although “Tomorrow Never Came” leaves you in an elated mood, “Heroin” serves as a potent downer in what is arguably one of her most raw and complex compositions yet. Muted, spaced-out chords accompany her heavy voice, which sounds as if she’s choking back tears while contemplating wasted youth and lost potential in lyrics like “The facts of life can sometimes make it hard to dream.” For those familiar with Topanga Canyon in the 60s, the Manson Family, and the counterculture of the time, you can sense how closely this track attains their eery, surreal vibes. With the sound of a gun reloading in the background throughout the duration of the song, the singer engages in a curiously wicked glorification of this particular past, stating, “Topanga’s hot today, Manson’s in the air/ And all my friends have come, ‘cause they still feel him here.” She emphasizes the insanity and dysfunction of those lost to hallucinogen-induced cult-led frenzies, singing "writing in blood on my walls and shit." As she continues to sing about “dreaming about heroin” and later “marzipan” to the background of deep organ music, Del Rey conveys her troubled, nostalgic frame of mind — perpetually stuck in a state of romanticizing the unsettling past through constructed memories, leading to an inability to ever fully immerse into the present or dissociate from fantasy. As whimsical and surreal as “Heroin” may be, I find its multiple sonic layers and overall lyrical depiction of a dream-like state to make it one of the most relatable and touching songs in Del Rey’s entire catalogue.
In my opinion, the record should have concluded with the glorious masterpiece that is “Heroin,” but perhaps Del Rey felt that there needed to be a come-down from the previous heart-wrenching song that hits you right in the core: hence, the unenthusiastic “Change” and “Get Free.” In the former, Lana continues to sing about optimism in change, and in the concluding track, she closes out with an ephemeral, beachy 60s vibe and a soft outro. However, her voice (and consequently, emotion) comes across as flat, and although she claims the song to be a “modern manifesto,” it does nothing more than reiterate that she’s got a war in her mind (we know, girl — you told us back in 2012!).
Overall, as someone who has been following Lana Del Rey’s musical career from the very start, I am more than pleased with Lust For Life and believe it to feature the songstress at her most mature and talented stage yet. I say this with great consideration, as I was quite sure that nothing would be able to top the personal impact that Ultraviolence had on me. However, whereas her previous works offered a more cohesive, cinematic, and grandiose manufactured feel, Lust For Life is raw, genuine, and self-aware. Lana Del Rey is back, and she’s truly better than ever.