How does an artist who’s based their entire aesthetic on the Stars and Stripes enter a new musical era in Trump’s America? For Lana Del Rey, perhaps the most intriguing and divisive pop star working today, it was a topic that inevitably needed addressing. But instead of switching up her image and avoiding the topic entirely as most controversy-shy artists would, she’s created a record that feels hellbent on returning hope to her homeland.
Brimming with references to Mustangs, Californian beaches and sweet summertime peaches, Lust for Life sees Lana using her romantic songwriting to reignite the dwindling American Dream. Part love story and part political parable, it’s her most complex, linear and ambitious record to date; one that demands to be listened to from swaying start to folky finish.
The hardcore fans hoping for a record that would spawn copious singles and make their idol a kind of traditional, chart-friendly pop star may come away from it feeling slightly short-changed. We’ve heard the record’s two most radio-friendly songs – “Love” and “Lust for Life” – already. They’re positioned right at the start to give the record a grandiose and orchestral opening that gives way into a record that feels less chart-friendly, yet wildly creative and rewarding.
Beyond lies an intriguing set of six songs that intertwine into a story of tender relationships and dangerous infatuation between Lana and an unnamed lover. It feels like familiar territory to her, starting off with “13 Beaches” and “Cherry,” two songs that deal with the idea of love being a source of simultaneous pleasure, pain and struggle. Instantly recognizable as classic Lana tracks thanks to their semi-masochistic lyrics, the latter feels like the most radio-friendly cut outside of the two lead singles with its strangely seductive, playground chant-like hook: “My cherries and wine, rosemary and thyme”.
But the love tale becomes somewhat linear with “White Mustang,” her ode to having a famous boyfriend who she fell for on “the day [his] record dropped”. It translates perfectly into the A$AP Rocky-featuring duo “Summer Bummer” and “Groupie Love,” two throbbing, trap-laced songs in which Rocky seems to assume the character of her music-making beau.
The cherries turn sour for the love story’s concluding chapter “In My Feelings.” With its smokey vocals and percussion-heavy production, it’s the closest the record gets to feeling like Lana’s biting debut, Born to Die. “Who’s tougher than this bitch? Who’s free-er than me?” she asks, before offering her final ultimatum to the man who’s messed her around with a powerful, nonchalant kick: “You wanna make the switch, be my guest, baby”.
Political involvement in the pop world has become a fashionable new trend; a fast track to ‘woke’ status and a way of aligning yourself closer with those who’ll feel the real effect of society changing. But while most attempt to incite protest, Lust for Life is laced with reassurance; a collection of pop songs with a much more considerate political message: if we stick together, things might just be alright.
“Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind” marks the record’s transition from love story to unequivocal political statement. Written after Coachella back in April, Lana found herself waking up from a weekend of music and unity to find that tensions were rising between the U.S. and North Korea. A John Lennon-inspired ode to the survival of generations to come (“What about all these children? And what about all their parents? / And what about about all their crowns they wear in hair so long like mine?”), it’s an example of how affecting Lana’s words can be when she steers clear of old-fashioned lyrical tropes.
The album reaches its political peak with “God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women In It,” a feminist anthem that makes the bold decision to punctuate the famous patriotic line with two sharp gun shots. In an interview with Elle magazine, Lana said that “[she] realised a lot of women were nervous about some of the bills that might get passed,” and wrote the song before the Women’s Marches took place.
It’s worth noting that, until this record, Lana hadn’t featured collaborations on any of her records. She’s thrown that tradition out here, bringing in everybody from the aforementioned A$AP to Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks. The duet with Nicks, titled “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” sees two generational icons come together armed with honey-sweet vocals to deliver a stark, simple and affecting song about how our love for the earth is similar to the love we have for our fellow men on earth. It’s sheer hippy heaven, but a rare opportunity to relish in Lana working with someone she’s undoubtedly been influenced by.
Unfortunately, it’s followed up with the album’s weakest track. “Tomorrow Never Came” is a strange and self-referential song that features the spawn of John and Yoko, Sean Ono Lennon. While the rest of the record gels together thematically, “Tomorrow Never Came” is a lumbering campfire track that features the cumbersome and twee line: “I could put on the radio to our favorite song / Lennon and Yoko, we would play all day long / ‘Isn’t life crazy?’ I said, now that I’m singing with Sean.”
On the record’s closer “Get Free,” Lana makes a promise. “I wanna move / Out of the black, into the blue”, she says, reflecting the gracious and famous smile that dominates the album’s artwork. For what feels like the first time, pop music’s most notorious nostalgist for American glamour finds herself looking forward, finding positivity, unity and inspiration in the midst of the country’s darkest era in decades.
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