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Album Review: Lana Del Rey “Lust for Life”

There are essentially two camps in the Lana Del Rey fandom: those who believe that the slow burn of 2014’s Ultraviolence was her superlative sound, and those who still hold out for the beat-infused pitch-perfect pop of the Born to Die/Paradise era. Lust for Life, is for the latter.

When the album’s first single, “Love,” dropped in February, fans rejoiced. Finally, the anthemic, cinematic side of Lana was back, a style she does so well. The song evoked the sweeping glory of tracks like “Ride” and “Young and Beautiful,” but this time, the famously melancholic Lana sang of a love that was joyous and seemingly free of the violence, uncertainty, and complications that usually permeate her music. It was clear then that the upcoming album would be very different than its predecessors.

Shortly after the release of “Love,” Del Rey announced that her 4th LP would be for her fans. The result is an album that feels almost like a mid-career survey, a kind of intermediate victory lap. But in only five years, she’s created a fuller and more robust folklore than some artists manage in a lifetime. Lana Del Rey is an artist that has curated not only her music, but various accompanying mythologies, themes, and personas. Lust for Life incorporates all of these, and even references her own oeuvre (“Sometimes it feels like I’ve got a war in my mind, I wanna get off but I keep riding the ride,” she sings in closer “Get Free.” (And if you secretly feared that wistful and aching Lana had vanished, despair not. She’s here too.)

This kind of all-inclusive approach comes at risk of feeling disjointed – with 16 tracks, Lust for Life veers on sprawling a little too wide. One of the reasons why I vouch so hard for Born to Die (oops, I gave away my camp) is that every single track on it pops, carries its own weight and sounds like nothing but itself —there’s power and impact in brevity.

But, again, this album is ultimately a type of fan-service – it’s not the best starting point for someone new to LDR’s catalog. Also, there’s admittedly a bit of cheese here, (probably most notably on tracks, “Coachella- Woodstock on My Mind” and “God Bless America and All the Beautiful Women in It”) but if you’ve come this far, you already know why we let Lana get away with such things. Perhaps her most endearing quality is her earnestness – once berated for her inauthenticity, Lana is actually one of the most sincere figures in the music world today. She has a certain magic of making things that seem corny as hell in others’ hand blossom back to their full glory.

This all said, there’s a lot to love here, and safe to say, there’s something for every fan. There’s a slew of guest stars; The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Sean Lennon — all strategically recruited to help emphasize the various faces of Lana. She indulges the hip-hop influences she now famously referenced in “Blue Jeans” with “Groupie Love,” “Lust for Life” and “Summer Bummer” (my personal favorite of the trio.) And then she does a 180 and re-embraces her flower-child side with Stevie and Sean on “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems,” and “Tomorrow Never Came,” respectively. There’s a moment on “Tomorrow Never Came” where she sings, “’Isn’t life crazy?’ I said now that I’m singing with Sean,” that serves as the perfect vantage point for her career so far. She’s far from the nervous and ruthlessly mocked figure she was on that 2012 episode of SNL – now she’s carved out her own iconic place among the aristocracy of American pop music.

Even though she previously chose to focus on the interior world of personal relationships, on “Lust for Life” she responds to the current state of American politics (but really, who can’t?) on the album’s middle three tracks. And I have to say, the aforementioned “Woodstock-Coachella on my Mind,” is one of the album’s high-points, with some of the most gorgeous production I’ve ever heard. Really, it’s so damn good, you’ll possibly even forgive the eye-roll inducing title.

The beautiful “13 Beaches” is the most heart-breaking track on the album, and is one of the best renderings of the trappings of fame I’ve ever heard. “It took 13 beaches to find one empty, but finally it’s mine,” she sings sadly, presenting an incredibly sad portrait of herself. But later on she swaps the last line and sings “It took 13 beaches to find one empty, but finally I’m fine.” As noted in a recent Pitchfork interview, Lana is, on the whole, the most content she’s been in a long time.

Which brings me to what I believe is the album’s centerpiece, “In My Feelings.” “I’m feeling all my fucking feelings,” she sings, and finally I’m able to articulate the thing I love the most about Lana Del Rey – she allows herself, and subsequently, her listeners, to engage in the full spectrum of human emotion. Our culture today can feel overly sanitized, overly advised – we are instructed to always feel strong, to soundlessly engage from the things that are bad for us, no matter how intoxicating they may be. And then when we reach a point of satisfaction, we panic at any remaining or newly discovered pangs of discomforting emotion. But that’s what Lana’s been saying all along- we can feel any way we damn well please. We own our emotions and are entitled to feel them completely. So thank you Lana, for letting me finally feel all my fucking feelings.

Lust for Life is out now. 

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