In some ways, Lana Del Rey straddles the divide between the popular mainstream and the more interesting, experimental ethos of the independent music scene. Part stylised hit maker, part damaged alternative icon, she is simultaneously both accessible and mysterious.
From a wealthy New York background, Del Rey – or Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, to give her real name – first came to prominence in the UK with the elegantly powerful Video Games, a YouTube sensation which set the template for the singer-songwriter’s signature sound: cinematic, vulnerable torch songs heavily indebted to early 1990s trip hop, delivered in a smoky, soulful voice. Her glamorous, media-friendly looks and evocative videos completed a package that seemed tailor-made for both artistic credibility and stellar sales.
Five albums on, it’s very much as you were. But while her core sonic dynamics and lyrical themes of alienation, dysfunctional love and warped Americana haven’t changed, new record Lust For Life is her most expansive and epic yet. Never one for punchy, short collections, here Del Rey delivers a 16-song, 71-minute behemoth, with even more grandiose orchestration and a guest list including rappers A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti, Fleetwood Mac legend Stevie Nicks and professional celebrity offspring Sean Ono Lennon.
So, there’s a lot to wade through here – too much, really; if ever an album needed to be five tracks shorter, it’s this one – but even so, the sheer quality of some of Lust For Life’s songs leaps out immediately. Opening track Love is a prime example; a moody intro builds effortlessly into a huge chorus that instantly lodges in the brain. The title track, featuring The Weeknd, continues in the same vein, with Del Rey’s plea to “take off, take off your clothes” sounding simultaneously alluring and desperate.
But the absolute highlight comes later in the record – the shimmering, disturbing beauty of When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing, an exploration of coping strategies in Trump’s America, is undoubtedly up there with the best songs Del Rey has ever written. We also get a strident response to the Republicans’ attack on women’s rights with the anthemic God Bless America (And All The Beautiful Women In It).
Some of the customary knowing pop culture references on Lust For Life do feel a little overcooked. The main culprit is the Ono Lennon collaboration Tomorrow Never Came, which sags under the sheer volume of sledgehammer-subtle references, not only (predictably) to The Beatles but also Bob Dylan, Elton John and Morrissey. Ono Lennon’s vocal facsimile of his late father doesn’t help either, and those who find Del Rey’s music just a little too contrived will find plenty of ammunition here. It’s also disappointing that the duet with Nicks, Beautiful People Beautiful Problems, is one of the most pedestrian songs on the album, despite the Californian veteran’s unmistakable contribution.
Del Rey’s at her best when taking centre stage herself, and Lust For Life closes strongly with the chilly, muted Heroin, the simple piano ballad Change and the haunting, rhythmic final track Get Free, with Del Rey announcing “Finally, I’m crossing the threshold/From the ordinary world/To the reveal of my heart.” With some more judicious editing, a good album could have been an outstanding one, but even so, this is still superior, well-crafted noir-pop that maintains Del Rey’s impressive career to date.