Prior to its release, Lust For Life was being billed as Lana Del Rey’s return to the opulent sound of her debut, and most commercially successful, album Born to Die – we were told that her fourth album proper is ‘for the fans’, and the apparent joie de vivre of the title and smiling album art caused speculation that music’s Queen of Silver Screen Melancholy was lightening up a bit. The final product, however, is not the reveal of a happy-go-lucky songstress, but rather an enlightened one with a wider vision of herself and the world around her.
Despite lyrical and sonic references to previous albums through a specific brand of hyper-feminized symbolism and the hip-hop beats that characterised much of her debut, this is a departure more than a return to form, and one that goes deeper than a surface reform of emotion. Where earlier albums tended towards dialogue and personal confession within a carefully styled world of Del Rey’s creation, Lust For Life opens this world up to the universe outside. Her love-weary realm of pearls and curls still very much underpins the album, and there is a strange new fixation on peaches in early songs ’13 Beaches’ and ‘Cherry’. Del Rey mournfully notes on the latter that her peaches “are ruined”, and similarly her other major symbolic touchstone seems to have been spoiled since we last heard from her. America is no longer the shining paradise that her first three albums revolved around, being characterised now by its souring political image on the world stage: ‘Coachella-Woodstock’ and ‘When the World Was at War’ contemplate Korean missile threats and impending war, while ‘God Bless America’ was inspired by Del Rey’s concern for women in Trump’s America. The final section of the album takes these musings on power and change and brings them back into the personal domain. Lana expresses a sense of tentative self-belief when she sings about moving “out of the black and into the blue” on ‘Get Free’, or hoping that “maybe by the time summer’s done / I’ll be able to be honest, capable” on ‘Change’ but it’s clear in the sombre tones of piano and strings that the process of change to a positive outlook is only in its early stages.
Even with subject matter aside however, the album remains heavy, and this is what makes Lust For Life such a stong piece of work. There is a humidity and oppressiveness to the songs on the album, due in part to slow-burning beats and keys on songs such as ‘White Mustang’ and ‘Summer Bummer’, but largely through light-handed production of Lana’s voice. All vocal inflections, consonance and sibilance are clearly audible, lending to the sticky listlessness of lines like “Hip-hop in the summer, don’t be a bummer, babe” and the insufferable heat surrounding the shrill cry of “It’s fucking HOT, hot” on arguably the best track on the album, ‘Heroin’.
On album closer ‘Get Free’ Lana refers to her “modern manifesto”, and this goes quite a way towards describing Lust For Life – caught halfway between the personal and the political, it shows an artist who is neither completely satisfied nor despondent, but who is inspired and intent on developing her own unique language and genre.
IMAGE: Neil Krug/Purple PR