In a recent interview, Lana Del Rey said she was “stuck in the same spot” on her last two records. Ultraviolence and Honeymoon were rewarding listens with persistence, as opposed to the instant thrills of Born To Die. Honeymoon’s length and similarly-paced songs made you question how far Lana could stretch her dark aesthetic. The title and album cover for Lust For Life hinted of change and that this would be her most uplifting release. This is the case in some ways, but she exorcises some of the same demons that characterised previous releases.
Rumours of a lighter direction seemed plausible when Lana released ‘Love’ in February. Over a 60s pop rhythm, Lana strips her blueprint down to one of her simplest melodies. Her trademark reverbed vocals are gorgeous as she sings a familiar longing refrain. She fills the song with a youthful optimism. It’s heartstopping when she switches the lyrics, “when you’re young and in love” to, “cos, I’m young and in love” in the sweeping final chorus.
The title track followed in April and features The Weeknd. It’s brimming with positivity as they sing, “we’re having too much fun tonight”. Their vocals are smooth together and there’s a rich Shangri-Las-styled beat with cooing doo wop backing vocals. By the next song, ‘13 Beaches’, the dense themes and languid melodies return. It begins with a haunting orchestral arrangement and a spoken intro as Lana reverts to previous feelings of being an outsider, “I don’t belong in the world, that’s what it is, something separates me from other people”.
The bleak themes continue on the brooding ‘Cherry’. Lana sounds disgusted with herself as she sings of being unable to resist a guy who causes her to fall apart. She repeats, “my peaches are ruined” with disappointment in her voice as well as scattering the song with swearing. It gives the song a surreal and unsettling edge. A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti guest on the downbeat ‘Summer Bummer’. As well as doing a guest verse, they provide ad-libs that enhance the song’s rhythm. Ultimately, it sounds like a rewrite of Honeymoon’s superior, ‘High By The Beach’ and is one of a couple inessential songs (not bad going for a 73-minute album).
Lust For Life is a backloaded record. ‘Coachella’ sounded clumsy as a promo release back in May — but in context it sounds warm, and neatly links the two halves of the album. ‘God Bless America’ comes close to topping ‘National Anthem’ as her most anthemic chorus (the gunshots are a very Lana move). It has a typically brilliant middle eight that carries on rising underneath the final chorus, providing a sense of euphoria.
Lust For Life is her first album to feature guest collaborations and they are well chosen. Lana rises to the pressure of performing with Stevie Nicks on the stirring, ‘Beautiful People With Beautiful Problems’. The luscious 70s soft-rock harmonies and sublime vocal from Nicks are an album standout. Sean Lennon appears on the country-tinged ballad, ‘Tomorrow Never Came’. Only Lana could get away with singing lines as on the nose as, “put on the radio to our favourite song, Lennon and Yoko, we would play all day long, isn’t life crazy now I’m singing with Sean”. It’s sung with a knowing wink, something that’s sometimes not appreciated about Lana.
Lana hasn’t always expressed her political views, but in recent interviews she shared her understandable worries about the chaos of the world. ‘When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing’ is arguably her most political song. In a quiet tone she asks, “is it the end of America?” before quickly answering, “if we hold on to hope, we’ll have a happy ending” in the liberating chorus.
The understated piano ballad, ‘Change’ is the penultimate song. It’s an emotional build up to the album’s climax as Lana sings, “there’s a change gonna come, I don’t know where or when, but whenever it does, we’ll be here for it”. This sense of hope continues on ‘Get Free’, which is a breathtaking closer. On the breezy chorus she confidently repeats, “out of the black, into the blue” as a powerful rally cry. The narrative of Lana looking outwards, revealing her concerns as well expressing hope makes this her most relatable and sincere record. She hasn’t got everything figured out, but she’s trying.
This sprawling and eclectic record is quintessentially Lana Del Rey. It has elements of her previous releases, but she’s evolved — she takes on subjects and sounds she hasn’t previously approached. It feels like Lust For Life is the album where she’s letting her guard down. It could well be her best and most vital statement yet.
Lust For Life is out now on Interscope.