Lana Del Rey is smiling on the cover of her fourth studio album, Lust for Life. A step away from her usual seductive pout, her smile signals the album’s slight shift from the moody, pained darkness of her previous music to this new, sunnier sound. She still remains true to her vintage themes of Hollywood glamour and problematic love which place her in her own league, but this time she seems more concerned with becoming a coherent storyteller of Americana.
Songs such as ‘God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It’ and ‘When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing’ deliver a more political message than has ever been seen from Del Rey, and yet they are entirely rooted in escapism and optimism. The latter of these explores the pleasures that can still be found in the Trump era, while ‘God Bless America’, written as a response to the Republicans’ attack on women’s rights, is a triumphant move away from the Lana Del Rey who sampled The Crystals’ controversial lyric, “he hit me and it felt like a kiss” for Ultraviolence in 2014. Despite the positive, embracing message of this song, occasional gunfire can be heard in the background of the chorus, depicting Del Rey’s subtle understanding of her country’s political situation.
This album also represents Lana’s decision to embrace more of a communal approach to the universe she has curated. The opening track, ‘Love’, addresses her audience with the lyrics “look at you kids/ with your vintage music” and sets the tone of the album as shifting away from Del Rey’s internal struggle to an appreciation of the wider view. Songs such as this and ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’ are celebrations of people. This song is the most meta song Lana Del Rey has ever produced; she is completely aware of her own self-image and sweet aesthetics (such as “their crowns they wear/ and hair so long like mine”) that are so often replicated by young girls. Thus, this album is not so much a move away from her quintessential tropes, but a consciousness and re-evaluation of them in a period of unsettlement and change.
This is the first time Lana has ever featured other artists on her discography, and she does it in style. From The Weeknd lending his falsetto tones to the title track, A$AP Rocky adding a futuristic, deeper sound to ‘Summer Bummer’ and ‘Groupie Love’ and Stevie Nicks making an appearance on ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’, the album is filled with guests and references to Del Rey’s inspirations. The most notable of these is the appearance of Sean Ono Lennon on ‘Tomorrow Never Came’, a song where the influence of the Beatles is boldly conspicuous.
The album, at an epic sixteen tracks, could perhaps be refined by losing a few filler tracks that seem to have no direction, such as ‘In My Feelings’ and ‘Heroin’, but this is a small criticism for an artist who has never been more self-aware or aware of the world around her. Her enigmatic, sultry voice is what draws people back to her time and again, and this is most recognisable on the penultimate track, ‘Change’, where she loses the melancholic strings and rhyme schemes in favour of a piano, her raw tones and the slightly unsettling feeling that something big is coming. The last track is the most descriptive in Del Rey’s purpose for the album, and she finally delivers her mission statement: “I’m crossing the threshold/from the ordinary world/to the reveal of my heart”. The entire album has been leading to this point, and one can only assume that whatever is to come from her next will be the most raw, real music she has ever produced, as she reveals her heart to us. And so, the uncharacteristic smile on the album cover is not a proclamation of happiness, but rather a promise that it will come.
– by Claudia George
*Feature image courtesy of Lanadelreyfan.com