Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon – Album review

John Preston

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

Honeymoon is Lana Del Rey hardcore. There are only three people involved in the writing and production of the entire album, Rick Nowels and Kieron Menzies again, and Del Rey herself.

If her debut was an exemplary attempt to establish a brand and the excellent Ultraviolence a ‘fuck-you’ follow up, then Del Rey’s third album proper is the sound of an actual artist indulging and building upon her craft and her loves.

Where the sound of Dan Auerbach was heard all over the psychedelic guitars and reverb of Ultraviolence and Born to Die‘s unsubtle dalliances with hip-hop were sometimes throwaway, Honeymoon has a purity and commitment that Del Rey’s best song ‘Video Games’ – one of the decade’s best songs – alluded to but which has been difficult to duplicate.

The soundscape here is steady and bare, falling into two main categories of unadorned piano and string arrangements, with Del Rey taking the role of the kind of laconic lounge singer typified by David Lynch’s Dorothy Valens in Blue Velvet, and the ‘muddy trap’ previously referred to by the singer when describing the album’s style before its release.

‘Burnt Norton’ is a spoken interlude – a poem by by T.S. Eliot – and Del Rey’s on-going themes of sex, death and religion (AKA men, fame and drugs) continue.

There is little respite from the slow crawl of the compositions’ tempos and in contrast to these, the trap Monroe of single ‘High by the Beach’ sounds like an EDM track. But none of this is meant as a criticism.

So Honeymoon‘s dual mission statement is made straight up and with no pretence in its opening two songs. There are several long tracks on the album, and its opening title track, running at nearly six minutes, is no exception. With no hip hop or pop embellishments in sight, its quivering Hitchcockian strings and occasional piano keys share equal limelight with Del Rey’s dark and honeyed tone telling of a love that is, of course, utterly doomed from the outset.

The next song, ‘Music to Watch Boys’, is the flip side. With a dub-like reverb on the stacked vocal harmonies, the same swirling strings instead float atop intermittent and slurred beats with both tracks referencing the colour blue.

These songs, which set the the template for the entire album, will alienate some and captive others completely.

The first half of Honeymoon in particular plays these two textures off of one another with the more traditional jazz of ‘Terrence Loves You’ sitting alongside the 10-minute sex (and sax) duo of ‘Freak’ and ‘Art Deco’ – two tracks which eventually merge, and which position baroque stylings alongside hip hop references and tinny hi-hats.

‘Freak’ climaxes spectacularly in it’s final chorus, which finds dispossessed and operatic wailings accompanying Del Rey’s plaintive drawl to ‘screw your anonymity, loving me is all you need to feel like I do’.

The album is broken up by the invitation in ‘Burnt Norton’ to ascend to the rose garden, and from here on in it’s melodrama, more gloom and Euro-trash side glances that wind Honeymoon down to its inevitable conclusion.

‘Salvatore’ is not only Honeymoon‘s best song and has the best chance of being a sizeable mainstream hit, it is also up there with ‘Video Games’, ‘Ride’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ as one of Del Rey’s most satisfying compositions to date.

Stylistically it is very much a lone return to the Born to Die album’s hip hop beats and lyrical themes of past and present cultures (‘beat boxing and rapping in the summer rain, like a boss he sang jazz and blues’) with masculine yelps and cries in the distant background led by luxe strings.

Del Rey herself has never sounded more poised and in control and allows a human chink in the songs’ weighty, slightly kitsch melody with a camp nod in rhyming ‘limousines’ and ‘soft ice creams’.

Disregarding an unnecessary cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, the true finale of Honeymoon ends with ‘Swan Song’s’ brilliantly unsteady statement (and Norma Desmond-like performance), ‘I will never sing again, and you won’t work another day’. However it’s the song’s closing line of ‘Why work so hard when you can just be free?’ that expertly sums up the album’s main intention.

Since the appearance of ‘Video Games’, so much criticism has been made regarding the ‘authenticity’ of the singer and then her irresponsibility as a woman who failed to present herself as a role model in a time where Taylor Swift is probably the most famous ‘feminist’ alive.

With Honeymoon, Lana Del Rey has made her most straightforward album so far – it’s probably also her best and her most satisfyingly challenging. She can’t be bothered with the fuss any more. This is who she is – take it or leave her.

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