First thing’s first: let’s address the album cover. A smiling Lana stands looking, directly down the camera lens, with flowers in her hair. A knowing nod to her detractors who have since 2012’s Born to Die labelled her “Gloomy Lana”? Or a sign that we are embarking on a new, more upbeat, musical chapter?
Early listens suggest that there is truth in the latter idea as, across Lust for Life‘s genre-hopping 16 tracks, Lana balances her familiar melancholic mourning with a level of optimistic social commentary that Katy Perry wishes her dire recent effort had wound up like. I refer, of course, to the wordy Track 11 When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing; in a pop climate where the events of 2016 are providing numerous songwriters with “deep” material, Lana’s approach to the “end of America” is refreshingly positive. Why sit and mourn the way of the world when you can dance through it? This is the sort of sentiment that the likes of Madonna, Kylie and Britney have been spouting since the beginning of their careers, but here it sounds more of a statement. On early listens, this song is the album’s obvious centrepiece and deservedly so.
Another striking feature of the album is its list of collaborations. From an artist who has largely shunned the obligatory Top 40 “feature” throughout her career, her vocal partners here keep the album refreshing, with diverse guests ranging from A$AP Rocky to Sean Ono Lennon via a sublime Stevie Nicks duet (my most anticipated track, which did not disappoint). One downside of this approach, however, is that it makes the tracks in between seem oddly filler. For example, I challenge anybody to remember In My Feelings in a week’s time.
The A$AP Rocky features are two of the most progressive songs in Lana’s back catalogue and further evidence, if needed, that she is here for the long haul. The Americana/soul of previous releases remains but here we have numerous hip-hop and trap influences throughout the album (Coachella-Woodstock In My Mind being a further example of classic material imbued with a 2017 beat). And while I personally could take or leave such experimentation, such experimentation is necessary. Criticism of previous albums has highlighted the orchestral tone becoming tiresome over the length of a full LP. No such criticisms could be directed at Lust for Life, which keeps its listeners on their toes.
However, any suggestion that we are entirely bereft of “classic” Lana material need not worry. The girl who is perpetually attracted to danger still remains a heavy presence, with tracks like Cherry and Heroin love letters to the self-destructive lifestyle her character seems destined to lead. And I use the word “character” deliberately, because this set makes it clearer than ever that the Lana del Rey we have come to love over the course of 4 studio albums and an EP is just that, a character. But why should that make her music any less sincere?
Lust for Life is the pop album that 2017 needed, and the album that Lana del Rey needed to release. It is bold, it is different, and there is ample material for a magnificent live show (here’s hoping!). Yes, it is perhaps three or four tracks too long, but there are numerous tracks which are likely to become Lana staples (here’s looking at you Love, Cherry, and When The World Was At War…). While falling short of the majestic heights of Paradise and Ultraviolence, this album does just what you want and need it to do, which is all you can really ask.
Guest Writer: Toby Prowting.