Few active pop stars are as fiercely on-brand as Lana Del Rey. If the signature style of America’s 21-century chanteuse isn’t your cup of tea, then steer clear of her fourth album Lust for Life. But if you count yourself among Del Rey’s disciples, get excited. Lust for Life is a whole lotta Lana.
16 songs sprawling across 72 minutes, Lust for Life splits pretty evenly into two albums. The first eight tracks are classic Lana, riddled with melancholy and daisy chains. Lead single and opening track “Love” is a cinematic song about youth and—you guessed it—love, reminiscent of her anthem for The Great Gatsby, “Young and Beautiful”. The title track includes a solid feature from frequent collaborator the Weeknd, whose persona has been the lecherous yang to Lana’s hard-living yin for some time now. “Summer Bummer”, an album standout, features Playboi Carti and ASAP Rocky. It’s a throwback in some ways to her first album, which included a song called “Summertime Sadness” and featured Rocky (playing JFK) in the video for “National Anthem”. It seems natural to find Lana singing about sangria over a trap beat, a logical extension of her sound in 2017.
Though these first eight songs feature a few flourishes in lyrics and production, they are overwhelmingly familiar in style. Lana Del Rey knows her thing and she does it well. If you like Lana, then you’ll like these songs very much.
The album’s second half, on the other hand, finds Del Rey testing the boundaries of the identity she’s built for herself. Where the first half of the album is strong but routine, the back half finds mixed but more interesting results.
Two prestige features fall unfortunately flat. A Lana Del Rey song called “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” featuring Stevie Nicks may seem the optimal specimen grown out of petri dish at Interscope, but the song sinks under the weight of its own melodrama. Obvious Beatles send-up “Tomorrow Never Came” features Sean Ono Lennon proves instantly forgettable.
Whether it’s newly introspective or radically meta, “Coachella — Woodstock in My Mind” is a high-water mark for something in Del Rey. The 21-century queen of the flower crown sings about seeing girls at festivals who look just like her and is justifiably struck by how surreal the whole business is. There’s no epiphany and the chorus relies on a meaningless lyric about a stairway to heaven, but the ironic distance between singer and song hits a record low for Lana Del Rey.
But it’s two songs about the USA, “God Bless America — And All the Beautiful Women in It” and “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing”, that lend themselves best to that classic LDR exegesis that was so popular in 2014. The former, produced in part by Metro Boomin, is a drawn out ballad whose title functions as the chorus, punctuated by gunshots that feel more like a gimmick than a statement. The latter includes a wispy chorus of “Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America?” Both are middling entries that wouldn’t normally stand out much from the rest of Del Rey’s catalog. But in 2017, there’s something intriguing, something just a little bit off.
Del Rey recently told Pitchfork that the country is in a “transitional period” and she won’t be performing in front of an American flag, something of a signature accessory since she hit the scene in 2011. But if the American flag feels out of place, what about Del Rey’s penchant for classic Americana? What’s the place of American nostalgia for Kennedys and classic cars in a time when nostalgia has fierce political overtones? That’s not a question for Lust for Life to answer, but it’s something to consider in American music in the years to come. B