It seems like we’ve lived with Lana Del Rey’s music forever. Yet, Born To Die, her official debut as Lana Del Rey, only arrived in January of 2012. Ever since then, though, she’s been a constant source of music. There was November 2012’s Paradise EP, which was eight songs long, currently considered a full-length album. This was followed by last June’s Ultraviolence, and now we have the newly released Honeymoon, just 15 months later. That alone is a far greater output than you’d get from most artists, but along with those releases, at least three album’s worth of unreleased songs have leaked with several of them, such as “Paris” and “TV in Black & White,” being among her best work. Meanwhile, there have been numerous collaborations (Emilie Haynie, The Weeknd, Bobby Womack) and soundtrack songs (The Great Gatsby, Big Eyes, Maleficent). Suffice to say that she’s never really gone away since she first captured the world’s attention with 2011’s “Video Games.”
“We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me,” begins “Honeymoon,” the orchestral first song on the new album. This is a bit ironic when you consider that listening parties for the album were held at Urban Outfitters, one of the trendiest clothing chains in the world, which is where you’ll have to go if you want to buy the album in a shop instead of online. And yet Lana is so fashionable that it’s not exactly cool to like her. If you’re in high school, liking Lana Del Rey is probably considered as lame as it once was to like Fall Out Boy (yet Fall Out Boy has become cool again, so go figure). She’s regarded as a pop star, not unlike Britney Spears or Katy Perry. Her music is not exactly what most would consider pop, however. (I don’t hear Lana on any mainstream Boston radio stations, for example.) Perhaps, then, that is her greatest accomplishment. Somehow, she’s managed to become a pop star without getting on the radio or performing on every other awards show. She isn’t even nominated for most awards (though she did get a couple of Brits noms). She’s the anti-pop star who’s simultaneously a pop star. Last year, she even threw most of her fans for a loop when she released Ultraviolence, which is ultimately a rock album. On it, she sang songs like “Money Power Glory” and “Fucked My Way To The Top”; if Britney Spears released this song it would be career suicide. But that’s Lana, the fucking rock star who can sing about anything and get away with it. In fact, we expect her to sing about such bleak and disturbing things; it’s why so many of us love her. She’s an anti-pop star who’s a pop star who’s a rock star. She’s even a rock star when she releases an album sans any rock songs, such as the new album, Honeymoon.
“No holds barred and set to destroy,” she sings during the chorus of the infectious “Music To Watch Boys To.” She wants their affection, and refers to herself as the one only the girls know, yet she gives one the impression that she’d decimate them if she had them. Yet on her last album, she sang about it feeling like a kiss when she was hit. Victim or assailant, it doesn’t matter; as long as it’s dark, we’re charmed. (OK, so, Ultraviolence was controversial and failed to charm a lot of people, but ten times as many became bigger fans of hers for it.) It’s rare that an artist can play both of these cards and get away with it.
There are plucky guitars at the beginning of “Terrence Loves You,” but it’s essentially a jazz song with its perfect blend of tender piano, sweeping strings and flourishes of horns. “I still get trashed, baby, when I hear your tunes,” she sings, though she’s gone on the record stating that she’s an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink since 2004. Perhaps she does drugs or perhaps she’s using her wild imagination. Either way, we seem to suspend our disbelief and accept her songs as the fruit of her experiences. If Madonna sang that line, we would assume that it’s an actual fact about her. This is just further evidence that Lana is an enigma. We don’t let just anyone pull the wool over our eyes. As you listen to her sing the title lyric of “High By The Beach,” the album’s first official single, you just accept it as something true of her. She can sell anything, like a largely orchestral, jazz-tinged album to teenagers. Or, a T.S. Eliot poem, “Burnt Norton,” which she reads as an interlude. She could release an album of spoken word and we’d probably listen to it as much as her music. And it would hardly be surprising if she released such a record in the future.
The catchiest song on the album is “Freak,” the chorus of which begins, “Baby, if you wanna leave / Come to California / Be a freak like me, too.” Don’t be surprised if you find your head swirling from side to side as you listen to this one. Like “High By The Beach,” it packs rather potent beats and it’s sure to be sampled by at least a few rappers. Speaking of which, Lana has been sampled and covered by at least as many rappers in the past. She’s even been sampled by a witch house artist, BLVCK CEILING.
Another highlight is “God Knows I’ve Tried,” an almost ominous song which Lana described as being “incredibly close to her heart” in an Instagram post. “God knows I live / God knows I died / God knows I begged / Begged, borrowed and cried,” she sings somberly. Perhaps the saddest lyric comes at the end of the second verse: “I’ve got nothing much to live for / Ever since I found my fame.” It could be a song about how she just can’t seem to win with the press, which seemed to attack her every time she opened her mouth while promoting Ultraviolence. Clearly, she’s frustrated with the media, which explains why she shoots a paparazzi helicopter with a rocket launcher in the end of the “High By The Beach” video. (And why she ends the album with a gloomy cover of Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”) They just won’t leave her alone. And neither will we.