You would only have to know me for ten minutes to discover how much I love Lana Del Rey and her music. Despite the criticisms she has received for things she has said and the glorification of drugs, violence and death, I personally feel there is more to her than that; positives that outweigh the negatives. I feel she is a talented artist – musically, lyrically and visually – and she has a spirit as beautiful as her voice. However, I don’t allow this worship of her to halt my own opinions of her music – ones that may differ from the mainstream critics that have already dissected her record – which leads me to this badly-introduced post on her newest album (forgive me, I’m rusty).
When she released Lust For Life this year I felt blessed with her new offering of music – and opinionated. Listening to her album on near-repeat throughout the end of summer and entirety of autumn has given me the chance to pull apart each track and decide precisely how I feel for them. Some I became hooked on immediately – I sang along, I cried and I recognised the familiar ‘Lana Del Rey’ vibe she consistently has in her previous albums. Others I felt unsettled with, as I couldn’t connect to them nor did they have the traditional ‘Lana’ vibe. Not to say that they’re bad songs, nor to say that they are objectively the lesser songs on the album, but in my own personal opinion some were not as favourable as others.
Beginning with the opening track, Love – her first release for the album – I was pleasantly and wonderfully surprised. Whilst it had some new additions to it (directing the song towards her beloved fans, referring to us as ‘kids’, the pleasant vibe which is rarely seen in a Lana Del Rey song) it still had the familiarity of her vaguely retro music and the lyrics including her favourite “vintage music”. It’s a beautiful song, easy to get into and gives you a warm vibe. Paired with the futuristic video of shooting stars, floating cars and a beaming Lana, it is a purely joyful and reflective song, paying homage to the fans that, like her, are just young and in love. It’s the essence of the majority of her music – to be in love, to fall out of love. Love is a central theme for most of her songs and lyrics. This track takes a positive approach towards it, introducing the album with a lust for life.
This continues into the second single and second track of the album – Lust For Life – her first duet out of the five. It is still Lana with a hint of something new – the familiarity of the doo-wop music and the Americana references to Hollywood go beautifully with her ecstatic joy for life rather than the consideration that we’re all really born for death. Once again Lana croons with The Weeknd (previously in Prisoner, Stargirl Interlude and at the end of Party Monster in The Weeknd’s albums Beauty Behind The Madness and Starboy) and it’s impossible to deny that their voices are made for each other. Both sweet and swooning, silken to listen to, they’re a musical match made in heaven, and it makes the line “my boyfriend’s back and he’s cooler than ever” that much more adorable. Lyrically, the song is about the joys of being with that special someone, seeing the wondrous hope in the world and enjoying being alive, just stripping down and taking off your clothes to only enjoy one another’s company – or perhaps “taking off” the serious wall around our true emotions and selves after the worrying events of 2017, an idea that’s more believable due to the politically-aware theme of the album. Comparing Lana’s almost spoken, low verses with a hint of smiling in her tone to her swooping, sing-a-long choruses, it’s another track to make you feel good inside and want to twirl around on the H of the Hollywood sign with the person in your life.
Both of these tracks – happy, and featuring Happy Del Rey – are soon followed by the return of traditional Lana: a cinematic, sweeping opening, a quote from the vintage film (Carnival Of Souls) and devastated confessions of how it hurts to love someone but you can’t help yourself: 13 Beaches. Once again, Lana has given us a song to cry over, to lie back and envision the gorgeous imagery she invokes throughout the song – sunlit beaches, dripping peaches and ballroom dancing (as randomly as it sounds). Though it is a song dedicated to the impossibility of being alone when you’re famous, and the complicated relationship with fame (loving it and hating it), it can still be taken as a sweet song for a lost lover, and it’s these interpretations that make her music on the whole so much more enjoyable for each person individually. It’s pure Lana Del Rey, just as brilliant and upsetting as The Blackest Day, Pretty When You Cry or Blue Jeans – though feels slightly disconnected to a real love interest due to the roots of who it’s really for: fame.
The fourth track, and one of the shortest, is decidedly my favourite. It’s a song that fills me with so much joy as it does sadness that I can’t resist it at all. It’s a song I frequently listen to and sing along to as there are so many elements that make it so fabulous. Firstly, once again the Lana-isms return: stunning imagery of cherries, wine, rosemary and thyme, and the difficulty in loving a dangerous man who is no good for you. Secondly, the music itself – I think it’s a fun and sexy song, especially when you see Lana perform it live – and it makes it that much more enjoyable to sing and dance to with friends. Thirdly, its connection to the previous song: In 13 Beaches, she delicately references to eating “dripping peaches”, a stunning image. However, in Cherry, she informs us that her peaches are “ruined”. It’s a beautiful link, and she has often reused and linked lyrics in many songs before. In this album, peaches, black beaches and summer bummers are recycled in the first few tracks, linking these opening songs together – and connecting them further is the vibe. Moving onto the fourth thing I adore about Cherry is the swearing. Between verses and choruses, and at the end of the song, she exclaims a muffled “Fuck!”, and peppers the latter half of the song with “Bitch”. It’s spiteful and sexy, a comeback that both deals with the emotions and ruin as well as calling out the one who made her snap. The insults honestly make it more fun, especially when you can shout them out loud when no one is around and imagine you’re a sneering Lana looking down upon the man who destroyed the things she loved.
White Mustang, the second short track, takes a slightly different turn. Rather than being directly insulting towards the ne’er-do-well, she instead laments over him. He was a big man with a big car, clearly a dangerous man like the one who made her feel as if she was “smiling when the firing squad was against [her]” – the “revving”/”lightening” brings to mind danger and potential damage. It’s a gentler song, with a soft piano throughout and slower choruses. This song is definitely a close favourite for me, keeping in line (once again) with recognisable Lana Del Rey imagery (cars/horses) and the dedication to a man she loved who she couldn’t keep up the pace with. The switch from white Mustang the car to white mustang the horse is swift and cute, and my favourite part of the entire song is the whistling at the end. It brings along the slightly Western vibe, of a typical American cowboy which contrasts perfectly with the modernised addition of racing car sound effects. I just basically enjoy all these little things – subtle sounds and shifts that only layer it and add to the imagery.
“Summer”/”bummer” was a rhyming couplet in White Mustang and it only foreshadowed her next track (surprise, surprise, Summer Bummer). Her second duet and first of two with Asap Rocky (and Playboi Carti) begins with an entirely different piano vibe – a dark, quick paced throb of built-up energy which Lana flawlessly introduces. It feels big and explodes into a brilliant track starring Rocky in the second verse and in the backing vocals, but Lana has her own way of rapping: delicately listing “white lines and black beaches and blood red sangrias” to give it the summery vibe. This hip-hop track feels guided away from the usual Lana Del Rey but it’s fresh and cool as a summer salad cucumber, her lazy vocals woven with her wavering warble towards the end of the track. It’s not my favourite and I often prefer to skip Rocky’s part (sorry) but it’s still a great track.
Locky return with Groupie Love, my most likely close second on the album. I have to take a moment to mention how much I adore this song: the first time I listened to it, and most of the times following, I cried. I find the sweet lyrics, the gentle, bubbling music and the adorable, adoring tone so overwhelming. In some ways it’s a parallel to White Mustang: both songs repeat their title over in the chorus, though whilst White Mustang sounds unhappy and longing, Groupie Love sounds radiant. It’s a song that chokes me every time and returns to the theme of the follower of a brilliant man but this time rather than losing him or yearning for him, he returns his love to her. Rocky is sparkling on this track, his rap more low-key than his previous song, and their voices together remind me of the National Anthem video – the kisses they blew and the way they held each other as Jackie and John F Kennedy. The sweetest moment? The way they both sing “You and I, til the day we die.” Lana and Rocky have sung together before (obviously on Summer Bummer but also on Ridin’, an unreleased track) and they compliment one another wonderfully. Where The Weeknd and Lana share a similar voice that can drip like honey, Lana’s lighter vocals oppose Rocky’s harder, deeper tone, but it’s just as beautiful, especially in a track so cute.
This to me is the where the best part of the album ends – seven strong tracks, definitively Lana Del Rey, each of them some of my favourite songs. When In My Feelings begins, I feel like the record takes a slight nosedive. In My Feelings is a song that I always feel is out of place. It doesn’t feel quite like something Lana would sing to me, and whilst I understand she may experiment with styles and it’s a song many fans favour, I can’t connect with it. Does it have her smokey, filtered vocals? Of course, and they’re as pretty as ever. Does it have the incredible imagery? Definitely: cigarette smoke, guns and coffee to name a few. However, it feels sort of empty, not quite with the rest of the album. It’s a strong song aimed at a certain someone, warning them that she may be a beautiful rose but she’s anything but delicate, unafraid to get her thorns out, and I can’t say I don’t enjoy the “tough bitch” she is expressing. But for me it just falls flat and doesn’t quite feel right, especially when the bridge becomes a messy demonstration of her high notes that make it difficult to hear the lyrics. It’s not a bad song but it’s not the best.
Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind. I’ve been debating about this track for a while in all fairness. It has its positives but also its unmissable negatives, and usually I just skip the track rather than debate with myself whether or not I enjoy it as much as most of her other work or not. The message is excellent, where she sings of festivals and wondering about the future generations, and I like how Lana is taking the opportunity to use her music as a message to her impressionable fans – and get them thinking too. However, it doesn’t feel quite polished and finished, the trap beats too heavy and the chorus a bit messy when it layers with several vocals. It feels like a hurried track, not yet ready for release out of production. I will say though, it did have heightened meaning to me following the Manchester terror attack this year, and after the tragic event occurred I found myself listening to Coachella at a whole new angle. I just can’t consistently get into it as a song itself, nor can I relate to it.
God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It is yet another song that just doesn’t feel right to me. I’m not saying it’s bad – it’s quite beautiful – but it doesn’t have the same vibe that made me fall in love with Lana’s music a few years ago. Of course, she changes over time, and experiments, but to me I can’t quite feel like I’m listening to a Lana Del Rey album. This is the point where you take the first few tracks and realise it doesn’t sound anything in the same line as them; the music itself is different, a gentle guitar strum that brings to mind ABBA each time I hear it and a patriotic march throughout the choruses. Lyrically, it is pleasing to hear something directed towards the women (specifically in America, as titled) during these uncertain times where misogyny still remains, and it’s a morale booster and prayer to all the women who need to feel their own strength as a woman in a softly sung prayer of a song. However, it doesn’t quite reach it to me – it skims the edges of feminist anthem purely because the chorus feels quite vague and distant, just a simple plea that women feel as Lady Liberty does, not entirely getting into the details and grips of modern politics or issues. All the same, coming from Lana, who once expressed that she wasn’t interested in feminism, it’s a demonstration of her change in attitudes and her awareness of problems, and reflects how much she has grown – and will hopefully inspire fans to do the same.
The following track – GBA’s sister track if you will – is similar in that it tries to hold onto hope and positivity in a world where nuclear destruction is a high risk. When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing addresses this in several steps: firstly, the verses are directed to both women and men respectively, using pretty imagery for the girls and requesting that they keep hold of their corsets and horses as they travel. A possible reference to some of the beautiful Latin women Lana has referenced to before being expelled from the country? Likewise, she speaks to boys in the second verse, demanding in a quiet voice that they don’t try to be funny (and makes many lyrical changes towards Trump regarding Twitter and fake news during her current LA To The Moon tour). These listed requirements, showing allusions to today’s America, are followed by the pre-choruses, a slight change in tack to Lana’s usual singing style. She requires people to “shake it up” and “cut a rug”, to dance away the troubles and the rules she has just laid out. The use of profanity – twice in these pre-choruses – shows personal feeling and her loose singing style adds to the illusion in the song that she is not really thinking about her words but just saying what comes to mind: just dance away those fears and keep positive. The sing-a-long style of these sections of the song makes it sound more fun than the worried verses, and it quickly slips into questioning: is it the end of America? A question on everyone’s lips since Trump came to power. Hurriedly, she soothes that it’s only the beginning, and her voice soars as she reminds the listeners that in previous wars – the two world wars and the Cold War, most likely – we kept morale up with dancing. And that’s what Lana is bringing us – music with rhythm for us to dance away the fears and keep our joy. This song is one of the most politically driven and the most relevant to issues today, and I’m pleased Lana included this despite it not musically being one of my favourites. It shows, once again, the way Lana has moved away from self-indulgent songs of drugs and doomed romances and has taken on a broader view of herself and the world she lives in. It not only includes her own awareness but may also inspire other people – listeners younger than her – to become more aware of politics and the issues in today’s society, despite the song being mostly about “throw(ing) your hands up and get(ting) loose”
Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems is a laid back song mostly made, it seems, purely for the duet of Lana and Stevie Nicks rather than including an actual purpose much like the previous two, though it’s not without meaning. Lana’s soft coo of a filtered voice pairs nicely with Stevie’s, and they mix well together, though don’t quite strike me as being a perfect match. However, their musical chemistry is stunning and bringing together the “witchy sisters” resulted in a soothing, swaying track ideal for slow-dancing or singing along with the beautiful people in your life. Though the meaning is lost on me – I can’t pair the verses or the choruses to each other, as each part of the song seems to be directed at different things – it’s enjoyable and has some sweet vocals following the combination of two recognisable voices.
The final duet for Tomorrow Never Came is with Sean Ono Lennon, son of the late John, and the entire song brings an undeniable Beatles vibe, from the guitar to the stuttering vocals in each verse to Sean’s voice which sounds almost identically to his father’s. A simple track where the two converse and make references to the seventies – jukeboxes, “shaking and grooving” and actual Lennon and Yoko – it is mostly guitar-driven and has an old-fashioned feel to it, which goes to show how much Lana adores the retro world. Their voices match perfectly, much more strongly than Stevie Nicks’ did, and this song truly invokes some emotion into it when you hit the despairing choruses. However, a nice twist to the song is the shift in wordplay which leaves us with a nicely wrapped up happy ending: the first two choruses mention meeting up the following day, but “tomorrow never came”, meaning it never happened thus the love never continued. However, the final chorus concludes with “you said you’d love me like no tomorrow, guess tomorrow never came”, ending on a happy note where the love finally triumphed. The clever wordplay and the calm vibe of the track – much like Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems – makes the journey to the end of the album much quieter and almost peaceful – until we get to Heroin.
I mentioned how the second half of the album was not the strongest (from my opinion), yet the last three tracks really do pick up and boost it for me, ending the album on a high note, though they stray from the typical Lana Del Rey vibe of the first seven tracks. The fresh feel of these three final songs – and the heavy weight and awareness that comes with it – are admittedly some of Lana’s best work, and her most aware much like GBA and WTWWAWWKD.
Heroin is one of the heaviest songs on the album, a weighty masterpiece that is both long and filled with emotion. Lana sings once again of drugs, the blunt title summarising the song entirely. However, it’s a gorgeous track, powerful to listen to, and every time I hear it I feel something inside me that pulls me down, but the wonder of this song pulls me up. Pretty lyrics tainted with speak of murderer Charles Manson and “blood on my walls and shit” and suicide references quickly following fill this almost six minute song dedicated to the damage heroin can truly do. The verses are quiet and almost growled yet the choruses are as dreamy as the distorted music and muffled thuds; you feel high yourself especially when you get to the final chorus after the messy, shouted bridge that sounds just as disoriented as drug-users may feel. The last chorus is slightly different from the rest, girlish and higher voiced, sounding almost as if she’s smiling as she sings of “dreaming about marzipan” then promises to get on a plane and change. I enjoy the churning pace and progression of this song, how it goes from the steady problems to the disorganisation of the bridge and finishes with recovery. Equally clever is how she promises to change all through the outro and slips straight into yet another of her most aware songs to date: the simple classic, Change.
Change is merely Lana and a piano, stripped back without the basic song layout to allow Lana to express her thoughts and feelings on a changing world. She shifts her voice and tone throughout each part of the song, from a muted, anxious tone to a storming, heavier song pushing her emotions forward, and finally becoming higher and sweeter, almost happier. Listening to this song can sometimes be difficult as she mentions the dangerous changes of our world today: the possibility of nuclear warfare as she notes that change may be coming on “the wings of a bomb”. It’s thought-provoking, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggled with the song, as without the upbeat music much like WTWWAWWKD to distract us you are forced to focus on the real issues presented. Again, it shows Lana’s growth and puts her in the spotlight as a celebrity who is trying to convey a message to her fans – recognise the changes and “be here for it”. This message willing strength and hope lifts up the unpleasant vibe of the rest of the song, the dark messages that horrible things may come, and hopefully may be a song that unifies the people it reaches out to.
The final song (Get Free) is the true beacon of hope for this mixed bag of an album – Lana’s “modern manifesto” and her personal song with much hidden meaning that only she herself understands. Despite the secrecy inside it, it’s still a song that is pure and ends the album on a high note. It’s a song of moving “out of the black” and “into the blue”, by moving on, accepting things when they don’t quite work out, and doing everything you can in the memory of those who never reached what they achieved – for example, the blanked out Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston, both taken too soon and never able to reach their full potential. Both of these women are well-loved and also important to Lana (which may explain why their names were removed from the song – it may have been too personal). I do love this song a lot, specifically the chanting of “out of the black/into the blue” and the lyrical reference to one of her best – and personal – songs, Ride. My only criticism really is that the verses feel as if they go on too long, which may not be an issue to some but to me, who does not connect to the song as much as others might do, it feels a bit tedious waiting for the choruses which are my favourite parts.
I’m pleased Lana has ended on a high note, as for some of her previous albums she has often finished the record with a darker tone, yet Get Free is a charming wonder. It, along with the rest of the album, is a marker for the change within Lana, no longer singing only about being ‘the other woman’ or focusing merely on the men in her life, but instead shows how she is taking responsibility of her fans and is putting out her opinion and plea that we all take notice of today’s problems. I like this overall difference in character, and the variety of songs and themes – from sweet to despairing to conscious – her longest album yet shows a mixture that makes this album not samey, whilst also straying from the typical styles of her other records which all contained a similar sound in each respectively along with a continuing theme. Yet, though Lust For Life does indeed include differences, it does certainly contain a theme through much of the songs: change, both in person and in style. I truly hope that whilst she does continue returning to some of the older themes, which were what made me fall in love with her music in the first place, this new Lana Del Rey is here to stay, and doesn’t drift from the problems which we all struggle with as a world.