Lana Del Rey, sometimes billed as the U.S. Morrissey, may have a reputation for being all doom and gloom, her now ample arsenal of albums always seeming to feature the chanteuse with a morose expression to pair seamlessly with lyrics like “there’s no remedy for memory.” But Lust for Life, both in title and photography, signals something of a marked shift for the illustrious Queen of Depression. Her style and sound hasn’t necessarily changed so drastically that she’s become unrecognizable, but there is something evolutionary afoot with one, Ms. Del Rey. Perhaps more anticipated than even her first album, Born to Die, which was heightened by negative publicity over her January 2012 SNL appearance, Lust for Life has been built up by LDR’s loyal fans since 2015, when she stated in an interview for NME, “I do have early thoughts about what I’d like to do with [the next album]. My label, Interscope, is pretty flexible and open to my records coming out at any time, so I don’t have that pressure. I’m just happy to be able to keep on making music I can stand behind. That’s enough for me.”
And so, with anticipation dangled over fans two years in the making, Del Rey, so long the ruminator on love lost, said of her fifth studio album, “I made my first four albums for me, but this one is for my fans and about where I hope we are all headed.” This alludes to Del Rey’s previous general lack of getting too political–or political at all. But with 2016’s apocalyptic nomination of The Orange One as president, Del Rey, as a human being with five senses, couldn’t rightly turn a blind eye to what was and is going on in the world, seizing upon the opportunity to bring the free love/protest vibe of the 60s she loves so much into the now. Titles like “God Bless America–And All the Beautiful Women In It” and “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing” indicate a frame of mind Del Rey has never chosen to express so freely in her music.
Eerily and earnestly asking, “Is it the end of America?” in the latter track, Del Rey channels, obscurely enough, Chewie Swindleburne (Emily Allan)–the socialite villain in Zhe Zhe–singing country, urging, “Cut a rug, lean into the fucking youth.” Del Rey’s connection to her fans, a demographic all mostly younger than her, has only seemed to intensify over her years in the spotlight, even when she is calling them “little fuckers.” The sense of responsibility she has to them, of protecting them from the America of now shines through on many a track, including “Coachella-Woodstock In My Mind” (another verbosely titled track)–arguably the least enjoyable of the record–as she simultaneously concernedly and disinterestedly asks, “‘Cause what about all these children/And what about all their parents/And what about about all their crowns they wear/In hair so long like mine/And what about all their wishes/Wrapped up like garland roses.”
But those who relish Del Rey for her adeptness at so eloquently capturing the emotions behind unrequited love should fear not: the third track, after the somewhat–by LDR standards–chirpy “Love” and “Lust for Life,” offers all the melancholy over l’amour (and fame) you could want. The evocative metaphor, “Can I let go, and let your memory dance/In the ballroom of my mind/Across the county line?” intermixes seamlessly with her retelling the tale of the summer of 2016, when it took her thirteen beaches to find one where the flashbulbs of the paparazzi didn’t stalk her. Still, all she can think of in those rare moments of solitude is how “it hurts to love you, but I still love you/It’s just the way I feel”–somewhat in direct contrast to the content of “In My Feelings,” which she coyly confirmed was about G-Eazy at the No Vacancy listening party for the album on July 20th. One supposes that, now, at this level of fame, it’s only right for LDR to have a Carly Simon-esque song that laments, “Could it be that I fell for another loser?/I’m crying while I’m cummin’…/Sobbin’ in my cup of coffee.” Not to be confused with Simon talking about “clouds in my coffee” in her own ex (Warren Beatty) diss track, “You’re So Vain.”
The soulful “Cherry” conjures auditory correlations to Del Rey’s stylings on “Blue Velvet,” “Yayo” and her remake of “The Other Woman.” In addition to bringing her ever closer to Amy Winehouse (she, too, has a song of the same name)–tragic icon-wise–“Cherry” also showcases that unique ability Del Rey has to cull from other artists’ (generally those of the 60s) lyrics. This time, it’s Simon and Garfunkel with “rosemary and thyme” being called out among cherries and wine. And, once again, “black beaches” are mentioned as they are on one of her latest singles, “Summer Bummer”–where are these elusive black beaches, Lana?
With a canon now robust enough for self-referencing, “White Mustang” also chooses to rhyme “summer” with “bummer” in homage to, you know, “Summer Bummer.” Elsewhere on the self-referencing front, a white mustang was featured in the “Born to Die” video, representing the sort of love/person that can’t be tamed or contained, hence Lana’s rehashing, “I was such a fool for believing that you could change all the ways you’ve been living/But you just couldn’t stop.” Thematically, it pairs well with “Groupie Love,” referring to a similar-type fellow in the form of a musician who can’t ever truly be tamed, must always give himself to the world as opposed to the girl who loves him.
A more “grown up”/tongue-in-cheek form of “American,” “God Bless America–And All the Beautiful Women In It” feels sardonic with its gunshot sound effects, perhaps a warning to the remnants of the patriarchy that the ladies are coming for you. “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” one of the most anticipated tracks on the record for its Stevie Nicks cameo, is another example of Del Rey blending the problems of her past with those of her present. Being beautiful (read: plastic surgery) and sought after is, of course, one of those more recent quandaries. Rick Nowels, who also produced this track, said of the collaboration that it was the logical merging of “two of the great female poets of songwriting.”
No doubt Stevie helped transfer some of her 60s vibes to Lana, who already seems to have plenty all on her own. Again using Bob Dylan’s “Lay-lady-lay” in casual passing as hers, “Tomorrow Never Came” is quite possibly the most 60s-sounding song on the record, which only makes sense considering Sean Lennon’s presence on the song. Doing his best imitation of his father, Sean asks, “Hey whatcha thinkin’? Penny for your thoughts.” But Lana’s already told us all of them by this point, segueing into another 60s-centric number, “Heroin” (one of The Velvet Underground’s most seminal songs). Beyond the obvious, “Heroin” encapsulates the feeling of ennui and stuckness that L.A.–especially Topanga–can breed. It also seems to allude to Del Rey’s love/hate relationship with the town as she remarks, “I want to leave, I’ll probably stay another year/It’s hard to leave when absolutely nothing’s clear.” What is clear, however, is that she can’t desist with the political motifs on “Change,” a title with overt parallels to Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin'” and Bowie’s “Changes.” Like her predecessors, Del Rey assures, There’s a change gonna come, I don’t know where or when/But whenever it does, we’ll be here for it.” Ehrm, or will we all have gone kabluey by then?
The sixteenth and final track, “Get Free,” again employs self-reference, with the lyric “Sometimes it feels like I’ve got a war in my mind/I want to get off, but I keep riding the ride,” harkening back to “Ride.” And that war, for Lana, has always seemed to be the one waged between positive and negative outlooks as conveyed in her music. But if you look at the season Del Rey has consistently mentioned–summer–in her oeuvre being more predominant than ever–imagery-wise–on this record, it’s evident that she is a hopeful person, in spite of it all (a.k.a. in spite of having majored in philosophy).
While many have feared Del Rey’s depressive debutant shtick couldn’t last this long, she’s done something few are able to carry off other than Marilyn Manson throughout the 90s: continue to expound on a poetic darkness that for all its sad ruminations, ultimately still sees some flicker of good in life. So yes, LDR isn’t the pessimist she’s always made out to be, sarcastic as a title like Lust for Life might sound to some.