Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Album Review | Lana Del Rey | Lust for Life (2017)

image source: chuck grant 
Released on 21 July 2017, Lana Del Rey’s fifth studio album Lust for Life is the beginning of a significant change in direction. Lana still retains her iconic Americana aesthetic whilst coming to a decision that she wants to be happier. 

Lust for Life itself can be split into six separate acts; varying in tone, genre, narrative prose and melody to aid Lana in her journey to a new plain of contentment and altruism. By Lust for Life’s album artwork alone (photographed by Lana’s sister, Chuck Grant), one can see that Lana is beginning to feel content with herself and her actions, and wants to spread this vibe in a world of collective tension.
The first three tracks of the record – ‘Love’, ‘Lust for Life’ and ’13 Beaches’ – establish the main themes of nostalgia, concealed emotions, love, anxiety, hope and a lust for life. Lana opens the record with a realization; she needs to smile in the face of life, rather than dwell in the melancholy. 

The optimistic opening track ‘Love’ swells with wonder and self-love. Lana muses on how the millennial youth manage to navigate life with a sense of optimism and affection under shroud of anxiety. ‘You get ready, you get all dressed up / To go nowhere in particular / Back to work of the coffee shop / Doesn’t matter ‘cause it’s enough,’ Lana sings to the youth of today. In observing the generation that is constantly inspiring her, she decides to follow in their ever-developing path. Lana begins to eliminate her Americana-fueled ideology of recklessness in ‘Love’, hoping that by the album’s end she will have found herself and what it means to be quintessentially happy. She continues to explore this notion of optimism with the title track ‘Lust for Life’ (which I have already reviewed here), in which herself and Abel (The Weeknd) find their lust for life through each other, by following the sentiments and observations of ‘Love’. 

In contrast, ’13 Beaches’ hits with a heavier theme than ‘Love’. The song traverses Lana’s fear and isolation created by constant media attention, how she can escape their grasp and to not feel trapped in and around her own home. The notion of 13 beaches in the song relates to how many beaches Lana searched until she could find one without paparazzi; all because she wanted to read a book. The track opens with a vocal sample from the 1962 horror film Carnival of Souls; acting as a self-narration towards Lana’s feelings of complete isolation: 

‘I don’t belong in the world, that’s what it is
Something separates me from other people
Everywhere I turn, there’s something blocking my escape.’

This seclusion is emphasized by the distortion of the sample, alongside the empty dial tone noises separating each verse. It’s as though Lana is trying to communicate with anyone who will listen, but is constantly receiving no answer.
Lana juxtaposes this theme with a metaphor of a doomed relationship; a relationship she needs to escape to find ‘something real’. This concept is also touched upon in ‘High by the Beach’ from Lana’s fourth record Honeymoon in 2015. In the video, Lana confronts a photographer in a helicopter outside her home in Malibu, California and precedes to fire a high-powered/RPG type-weapon to destroy it, thus giving her privacy.

‘Cherry’ and ‘White Mustang’ were written at the same time, towards the end of Lust for Life. Lana felt as though she would have found herself by the end of the production process. “I felt like I even sounded kind of annoyed in these tracks,” Lana told Zane Lowe on Beats 1. As Lana began to realize, it takes time to put the pieces back together to form a clearer picture; there is a need for a semblance of annoyance to take hold to get there; whether that was in part due to the subject matter of the songs or the arduous process of creating a record and conducting an inner-journey. 

The songs themselves are a departure from Lana’s initial epiphany, alluding to fictional relationships between Lana and men who take risks or who are musicians. This is a common theme in her previous work, but here Lana takes a different path. The spoken ‘Fuck!’ and ‘Bitch!’ after the verses of ‘Cherry’ demonstrate her internal frustration with falling for dangerous men, whilst ‘White Mustang’ comes to the realization that her love will not change her lover’s behavior. The opening chords of ‘White Mustang’ are organized in a similar pattern to ‘Summertime Sadness’ (Born to Die, 2012), a song further alluded to and contrasted against ‘Summer Bummer’. 

Both ‘Cherry’ and ‘White Mustang’ utilize a stripped-back, forlorn feel with a trap drum backbeat, introducing a hip-hop sensibility that is further explored in Lana’s following collaborations with A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti.
Lana’s aesthetic has always been synonymous of merging trip-pop and hip-hop with an Old Hollywood soundscape. ‘Summer Bummer’ (ft. A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti) and ‘Groupie Love’ are no different. Both feature the signature trap-beat that began to emerge on ‘White Mustang’, however, they both infuse a synthesized bass and rap-verses that thoroughly differ from Lana’s previous work. 

When ‘Summer Bummer’ was released (28 July) as the third single, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But the more I listened to it, the more I began to appreciate the direction that both Lana and A$AP took with this song; slowing down what could have been a fast-paced hip-hop/rap track to a melancholic pace in a minor key. It’s a strange song, but one that thrives from the strangeness. The Carpenters-esce ‘Groupie Love’ follows a similar pattern, albeit threads more on the side of ‘upbeat’ melancholia due to the rising major keys and harmonizing between Lana and A$AP on the choruses. 

The narrative between ‘Groupie Love’ and ‘In My Feelings’ flows seamlessly, detailing the bizarre yet alluring relationship between musician and fan. Lana sings of an idealized, fictional relationship in ‘Groupie Love’, which is contrasted by her experiences with ex-boyfriend (and rapper) G-Eazy on the track ‘In My Feelings’. 

Like ‘White Mustang’, ‘In My Feelings’ bridges act III and IV together with a swelling synth bass, a trap beat in the foreground and the knowledge that Lana is continuing her journey; knowing that she needs to kick her habits and find power within herself to break the cycle she has become accustomed to.
Lana strays back towards the atmosphere explored within the first three songs of Lust for Life, shifting her focal point to apprehensions caused by current world affairs. ‘Coachella – Woodstock on My Mind’ is a direct answer to this; singing with trepidation and uncertainty as to whether she should be dancing at Coachella whilst tensions between the United States and North Korea are rising. 

She worries for future generations (‘What about all these children, and all their children’s children?’), and hopes that even the slightest good thought from herself – one person in a world of billions – could spread and make a change (‘Maybe my contribution could be as small as hoping / That words could turn to bird and birds would send my thoughts your way’). 
The structure of the song itself is similar to ‘In Your Feelings’; a similar bass synth swell in the background and a heavy trap. Instead of being utilized for another hip-hop track, the familiar combination adds a strange depth to counteract with the anxiety and fear that Lana feels. The tracks that follow – ‘God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women In It’ and ‘When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing’ – transform into guitar-orientated compositions that complement the emotion of Lana’s observational lyrics. 

‘God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women in It’ is blatantly a response to the last eighteen months of American politics, praising the response of women in retaliation to Trump’s inauguration. Whereas ‘When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing’ presents an air of uncertainty, a reflection of collective worry felt throughout the world; particularly the United States (‘Is it the end of an era? / Is it the end of America?’). Even though both tracks instill a tone of desolation for the future of the world, Lana encourages the listener to keep hope burning in their hearts and to stay awake and vigilant to the threats coming their way. Whether that be a foreign land, a powerful figure or a dysfunctional relationship.
The Weeknd, Playboi Carti, and A$AP Rocky are not the only musicians to make an appearance on Lust for Life. Perhaps the most prolific collaborations appear towards the end of the record, with Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon contributing extremely personal, co-written tracks with Lana. Nicks appears on ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’, and Lennon on ‘Tomorrow Never Came’. 

Both songs act as a conversation between the artists, creating a breathtaking soundscape that tackles issues of regret and troubled relationships. Both Nicks and Lennon contribute their own stories and instrumentation to both tracks, making their mark on the record whilst making sure that they don’t step on Lana’s toes. 

‘Tomorrow Never Came’ is perhaps Lana’s most self-referential track, commenting towards the end of the song that it’s crazy she’s singing with Sean after singing ‘And I could put on the radio to our favorite song / Lennon and Yoko, we could play all day long.’ Lana and Sean also hearken back to the Abbey Road era of The Beatles (whether intentional or not); using a similar melodic pattern in the pre-chorus to the George Harrison classic ‘Something’. The title ‘Tomorrow Never Came’ also seems to be a play on the Revolver title ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
Lana ends Lust for Life with three vulnerable tracks, ‘Heroin’, ‘Change’ and ‘Get Free’. These songs follow a narrative in their own ways, but all speak of Lana adapting to the change she dreamt of at the beginning of the record. ‘Heroin’ begins the narrative with a dark and dreamy ballad, ‘Change’ strips back and leaves Lana with only her voice and a piano and ‘Get Free’ establishes her want for change within herself, whilst establishing that she hasn’t reached that paradise yet. 

The three tracks position Lana at the starting line for a new journey, both in her life and in her art. She flips Neil Young’s famous lyric on its head, singing ‘Out of the black / Into the blue’ in ‘Get Free’; out of the artistic darkness, and into a melancholic happiness. She does this alongside a more up-tempo instrumentation and vocal melody. Lana still wants to retain that emotion she has harnessed throughout her previous work but in a hopeful rather than sorrowful way.


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