The new album by Lana Del Rey, Lust For Life, feels like an event. However, I mean that in a way that may be slightly outdated. In the last year or two artists have been challenging preconceived notions and established wisdom regarding what a record release is, or indeed should be.
Frank Ocean released Blonde in the form of a video. Kanye West, Taylor Swift and Jay-Z have all attempted to use releases to push streaming services and other business interests with mixed results. Arcade Fire have recently been playing silly buggers with all this: “hi we are the pushy record label and have hijacked all the social media accounts… psyche! We are Arcade Fire and we are doing this our way because we are super edgy and do what we want”.
Rather, Lust For Life has been slowly picking up momentum, a train in the distance finally coming to the fore, that has now arrived to genuine excitement. No gimmicks. No grandstanding.
A release cycle that emphasises new material from an artist and what will help their audience enjoy it best. Classic. As Lou Reed once said, “sometimes you have to be hip enough to be square”.
Torn between her former self and a revelatory classic rock renaissance, Lana Del Rey straddles two distinct stylings on Lust For Life.
Lust For Life finds Lana in a similar predicament. There’s a clear push/pull dynamic going on between the understandable inclination to stick to what she is known and celebrated for (hello darkness, my old friend) and the desire to break new ground.
The first half of the album finds Lana in largely familiar territory; albeit with a bit more sunshine creeping through the blinders. Love and the title track are both gorgeous songs that take the Born To Die blueprint and inject a healthy dose of pragmatism.
We are no longer born to perish but free to live. It’s a beautiful revelation to hear Lana’s unmistakable voice croon the words,
“You get ready, you get all dressed up
To go nowhere in particular
Back to work or the coffee shop
Doesn’t matter ’cause it’s enough
To be young and in love ”
The nihilism has been dialled back to expose a more considered brand of existential yearning. And while it might not be as sexy as the whole doomed, star-crossed lovers routine, it certainly comes across as a great deal wiser.
Besides, Lana doesn’t need such overblown drama to create romance. You could probably give her a Slipknot tune and people would still think they were hearing love for the first time.
If the first half of Lust For Life is business as usual, then the second half differentiates itself in subtle, yet meaningful ways. The collaborators that appear, Sean Ono Lennon and Stevie Nicks, are more closely associated with classic rock than anyone Lana has worked with before.
This motif extends to the lyrics with references made to Bob Dylan, Elton John, Lou Reed, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and famed counter-cultural festival Woodstock. It should be noted that all of these references appear in the second half of the album; further emphasising the divided nature of the album and suggesting a contemporary/classic rock split.
While Lana has often flirted with music nostalgia it has rarely been this overt, literate and affecting. I am reminded of the trick that “literary” rock band Okkervil River pulled off on their brilliant 2007 album The Stage Names; where the references serve to embellish the current narratives by borrowing sentiments gathered from past works.
Lana takes it one step further into meta territory on Tomorrow Never Came, where she references her love for John Lennon and Yoko Ono and then chimes in “’Isn’t life crazy?’, I said now that I’m singing with Sean”. It’s clever writing that manages to transcend mere name dropping.
The tracks that make up the second half of Lust For Life are staggeringly strong and demonstrate real growth as a songwriter for Lana. I could list them for you right here but in the world of Spotify and iTunes there isn’t much point.
In my opinion, considering the 71 minute running time and thematic shift, the album is best absorbed in two sittings. Start at Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind and let it play. It’s a sequence of songs that could easily have been assembled into a great album of its own; and in some ways it’s surprising that it wasn’t.
But I can hardly bitch about getting two great albums in one.
Lust For Life is out now.