“Always have an escape route: metaphysically, physically, financially, emotionally,” LA billboard icon Angelyne sagely advised in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
God knows, Lana Del Rey is trying.
When most of us first met the Queen of Coney Island, she was running from the cops in her black bikini top and riding shotgun in a Bugatti Veyron in the Hamptons with her bad baby by her heavenly side on her still immaculate 2012 debut, Born To Die.
She quickly proved to be pop’s most divisive act in ages: Was she real, or just a real phony? The debate spawned endless thinkpieces from critics about the supposed “authenticity” of her persona, picking apart everything from her origin story to her sullen, swaying performance style — down to even her lips, as if it even mattered.
Eventually, the public more or less ‘got’ Lana, in large part due to the success of the chart-topping Cedric Gervais remix of “Summertime Sadness,” which squeezed Lana’s voice into more digestible dance floor dimensions to appeal to Top 40 radio and EDM festival-goers. Her soundtrack contributions, which naturally suited her cinematic approach — including The Great Gatsby‘s “Young & Beautiful” and Maleficent‘s “Once Upon A Dream” — only won her more fans.
But the initial backlash didn’t sit well with Lana, who stewed over the criticism in a studio with The Black Keys‘ Dan Auerbach while crafting Ultraviolence, a scowling, sarcastic response full of pounding drums and angry guitar licks amid heavy plumes of hydroponic weed.
A year later, the storm clouds have dissipated — sort of, anyway — and Honeymoon, Lana’s lush, luxurious great escape.
As suggested in interviews leading up to the album’s release, Honeymoon is a return to the jazzy, orchestral sound of Born To Die and Paradise. But unlike her first two records (and more like Ultraviolence), Honeymoon steers clear of the Emile Haynie-dominated production that made the album stand a chance at radio — not that she’s trying to craft a radio hit, of course.
With a gorgeous swell of strings, opening track (and album namesake) “Honeymoon” sets the dreamy tone for the rest of the record. Written entirely with longtime collaborator Rick Nowels and co-produced with engineer-turned-producer Kieron Menzies (who also wrote on “High By The Beach”), the album is Lana’s most intimately crafted set. And, for the most part, she allows herself to indulge at length in the slow-burning productions, with most songs clocking in around five minutes (or longer) as she steadily dreams away her life.
Three years since her debut, life is vastly different for Lana.
Having gone from blogosphere curiosity to bonafide superstar in a matter of months, the reclusive singer’s relationship with her newfound celebrity is complicated: On the one hand, she’s notoriously sweet in person, stopping to take selfies with the fans that stalk her in Brooklyn, giving big smiles to the paparazzi and climbing down to give hugs and kisses to the entire front row at her concerts.
On the other, “High By The Beach.”
As it turns out, Lana would much rather be high by the beach than dealing with anyone’s bullshit.
The Jake Nava-directed video for her lead Honeymoon single is Lana’s first real response to the less desirable aspects of fame: The clip follows her window to window in a gorgeous seaside home, as she’s pursued by an all-too-invasive photographer, conjuring visions of every stalked starlet in search of some privacy, from Elizabeth Taylor to Amy Winehouse to Britney Spears.
But Lana is in control of her destiny in this paparazzi fantasy. And, in an unforgettable and hilarious scene — armed with a comically oversized gun straight out of Duke Nukem — she blows that helicopter to bits. How’s that for a good shot, Mr. Photographer?
The hypnotic trap-infused cut, with its hymn-like repetitive chorus, isn’t just the album’s most lively moment — it’s the closest we get to hearing anything uptempo from Lana on this album— but perhaps the most assertive and independent Lana has ever sounded on record.
“Lights, camera, acción / I’ll do it on my own,” she coos. Gone is the girl cuddling up in our laps and asking for lots of pretty diamonds on Born To Die‘s “National Anthem.” She’s got this on her own, thank you very much.
The burst of empowerment is, unfortunately, short-lived: “God Knows I Tried” also finds Lana struggling to deal with celebrity, but instead of shooting down a paparazzo, she’s opted instead to draw the blinds, put on The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and dance all alone.
“I’ve got nothing much to live for ever since I found my fame,” she sadly sings along lonesome guitar strings. The chorus is especially haunting, as she resigns to her new reality: “God knows I tried,” she sings over and over again. A nod to “Well shit, at least you tried” in “Blue Jeans,” perhaps?
Plenty of the material on Honeymoon feels like a continuation of the themes and stories that began on Born To Die, including “Music To Watch Boys To,” one of the album’s noir-ish standouts, which plays like a shadowy sequel to “This Is What Makes Us Girls.”
“I like you a lot (Putting on my music while I’m watching the boys) / So I do what you want (Singing soft grunge just to soak up the noise),” she murmurs, melting into the dark and dramatic strings with each breathy, echoed utterance.
“Freak,” on the other hand, could be a companion to Paradise‘s “Gods & Monsters,” as Lana seduces with a invitation to California. “Baby, if you wanna leave / Come to California, be a freak like me too,” she purrs over smoky horns and subtle beats. Dub it over her stripper scene in Tropico — it’s a perfect fit.
The girl that would give up everything for her man on “Video Games” is still very much present on Honeymoon including “Religion,” a devotional that moves into the spiritual realm for a bit of light blasphemy.
“When I’m down on my knees, you’re how I pray,” she recites above a swaggering beat, Madonna Del Rey style, before supplying some gorgeous falsetto: “Hallelujah! / I need your love.”
Lana’s voice doesn’t always get the praise it deserves, but it shines more than ever on Honeymoon, from her somber cover of Nina Simone‘s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” to the huge, heartbreaking highlight “The Blackest Day” — six minutes of unrelenting anguish and Billie Holiday records on repeat, free-falling deeper and deeper into depression.
If “Dark Paradise” is the aftermath of a bad break-up (or maybe even a death), “The Blackest Day” is an agonizing account of the day it first fell apart.
“Looking for love in all the wrong places…oh my God!” she exclaims in disbelief. Way too real.
And while the album does feel like a return to her debut, there’s some subtle experimentation going on: The space-age “Art Deco,” an ode to a misunderstood talent (which some people online are speculating is about her friend, Azealia Banks — it’s possible, who knows?), floats in the speakers with its strange, drippy synths, almost bringing the skeletal production of FKA twigs‘ “Pendulum“ to mind in the chorus.
“You’re so Art Deco out on the floor,” she declares on repeat — just one of the album’s many Lana-isms.
Speaking of, the lyrics on Honeymoon range from devastating to downright hysterical, at times even bordering on self-parody (the title track almost feels like a Lana Del Rey Mad Libs).
Nowhere does she let her songwriting get sillier than her Italian daydream, “Salvatore.” The production is so majestic and romantic, you might not even catch the fact that she’s singing the words “La-da-da-da-da / La-da-da-da-da / Soft ice cream.” (Hey, this is the girl who wrote a song about Diet Mountain Dew — and we all know she tastes like Pepsi-Cola downstairs. Queen of Food and Drink!)
Lana’s Honeymoon dreams don’t stay grounded here on Earth, either.
Apart from the usual themes — us-against-the-world romance, break-ups, fame and fortune — Lana explores her interest in time and space on this record, including the “Burnt Norton” interlude, a recitation of part of T.S. Eliot‘s poem about the present moment.
“Terrence Loves You,” which begins as a deeply depressing break-up ballad, sees Lana getting lost, getting trashed and tuning out her sorrows with some jazz, until momentarily soaring into the sky on heaven-sent layers of harmonies.
“Ground control to Major Tom,” she cries, referencing David Bowie‘s “Space Oddity” as she briefly takes off into the stars. All she wants to do is get high, baby baby, bye bye.
Lana’s hinted at her interest in the intergalactic in several interviews, including one where she (now famously) explained that she was more interested in talking about exploring outer space than feminism. She’s been criticized ever since for being either anti-feminist or just not feminist enough — it’s really no wonder she’d like to go vacation permanently on Mars.
As a body of work, it only makes sense that this record would be called Honeymoon: This is her creative escape — from celebrity, from heartbreak and, most of all, from your bullshit. That she’s casually posing on a StarLine Tours sightseeing bus on the cover is a stroke of sarcastic genius.
We’re lucky to have her while we do, because one day, she may very well sail away with her man and never look back — or even croon another tune for us.
“I’ll never sing again / And you won’t work another day,” she dreamily promises her lover as the strings swell on the album’s closer, the appropriately titled “Swan Song.” Wait. No more singing?
The threat might be taken more seriously had Lana not claimed she’d probably stop making records altogether after Born To Die. (And then, Ultraviolence happened.)
Nice try, Lana, but we all know better by now: Honeymoon is just a fantasy. For now, anyway.
Honeymoon was released on September 18. (iTunes)