It would be easy to call Lana Del Rey all style and no substance. Actually I have been for five years; her image as a musician is impeccable, probably the best in the world right now – every image she releases, every album cover and title, is deeply evocative – but her music lives up to not an inch of it, glossily produced and trying too hard to portray an image of a forever on-the-edge icon to actual pull it off. Here though Lana advances closer to maturity; there are far less cringe inducing instances of Instagram posing, and indeed some impressive songs come out of it. There are still some very misplaced tunes here, but for the first time she’s sounding like a complex musician occasionally cowing down to record contact obligations, rather than an industry stooge, posing as an indie outsider.
Lana’s vocal style is so distinct at this point that it would be easy to read Honeymoon as not much of a change up from Ultraviolence, but that’s not the case; Honeymoon is quite different. While Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys brought thick guitar solos and bombast to her last LP (forget Sam Smith, ‘Shades of Cool’ was a Bond theme song ready to go), subtlety went out the window. Honeymoon is a much more sophisticated record instrumentally, with blue notes replacing the riffs. Del Rey’s vocals are the best they’ve ever been here too; for years she’s confused seductive sensuality for tedious mumbling; and some awful live performances across the years threatened to expose her as a rather lacking vocalist in reality. Indeed still this record’s best vocal moment comes on ‘Freak’ where layered descents are syncopated with horns and a unique and chilling effect is mastered: but nevertheless, it’s hard to complain when on record at least, some of the vocals here sound very good indeed.
Honeymoon is a much more sophisticated record instrumentally, and Lana Del Rey’s vocals are the best they’ve ever been
‘Honeymoon’ is a great opener, Lana sounds wonderful here. Taut violins both drawn and plucked, and gentle marching drums in the rear pull together a terse tension; her references to ‘”the history of violence that surrounds you” creating the exact noir ambience I imagine Del Rey seeks to create every time, but so often falls short of. She tops the song off with some intricate Simone-esque improvisations; it’s the sort of showcase that appears three or four times on every album of hers, and I wish she’d pull together more. ‘Terrence Loves You’ is another very pretty ballad, piano led with barely an inclining of a hook – delicate flutes trickle across her lead vocal and enrich the music with some much welcome jazz stylings. She gives a fantastic performance on ‘Salvatore’ too: such she’s singing in Italian, rolling her r’s and talking about her tanned lover so it would be hard to go wrong but indeed it doesn’t: it’s a sensual cut.
A first for a Lana Del Rey album: some lyrical spots here are actually rather good. ‘God Knows I Tried’ reminds of Janis Ian’s ‘Stars’ as a perspective of one trapped by fame as opposed to freed by it, she sings “I’ve got nothing much to live for/Ever since I found my fame/God knows I live/God knows I died/God knows I loved/God know I lied.” The gut reaction is to presume it’s just more pretence but Del Rey has said the song is very close to her heart and with words like these and the performance she imbues them with: it makes sense – it’s a heart-breaking moment.
There’s also ’24’, on which she sings “there’s only 24 hours in a day/And half as many ways for you to lie to me, my little love”, which is classic blues lead concept and a powerful one. The whole song, with caressed drums and spiking horns is a at once subtle and cinematic and it’s most certainly an album highlight. ‘Freak’ meanwhile is the densest moment and is as bewildering as its title would suggest – with her vocals sampled are toyed with almost like Bjork would all around the mix, it’s a refreshingly left-field touch.
Del Rey’s producers are not as adept at merging live instrumental with a modern flavour (which at this point is just a by-word for the inclusion of hi-hats) which appear on ‘Freak’ and ‘Music To Watch Boys To’ but seem an ill fit on otherwise well-made songs. The latter and ‘High By The Beach’ also culminate in her delivering a maudlin spoken word segment which made its debut on Ultraviolence‘s title track and is pretty boring by now. On the aforementioned lead single it’s just the icing on a turd sandwich: it’s one of the worst singles of the year so far, featuring the most redundant and tedious hook, very cheap sounding high hats and the same sort of tedious hey guess what I smoke weed! braggadocio seen flaunted by Miley Cyrus, The Weeknd, Ed Sheeran and almost every rapper from Drake to Mac Miller over the past few years… We get it guys, you smoke weed, so does everybody else, congratulations.
Lana Dey Rey’s favourite hobby is taking the iconography of the early Hollywood and the Jazz scene, and just saying it. Not even taking the sound and playing with it – just saying the words. “Hollywood legends never die” goes the start of ‘Terrence Loves You’ and on ‘The Blackest Day’ she goes on about listening to Billy Holiday: taking the legacy of the astounding soul singer, and using it for a cheap shot of evocation. Lana does indeed seem to have great taste – the best lyrics on album come on the ‘Burnt Norton’ interlude, where she reads an extract from the first poem in TS Elliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ of the same name. Sometimes it feels like Honeymoon would have been a better blog post than album.
But then in an age when people unironically called Future ‘Future Hendrix’ and Charlie Puth drops a mediocre single under the name ‘Marvin Gaye’ and becomes the most searched for artist under that name… Who’s going to bat an eyelid about such casual disrespect for the work of the greats? The albums finale is by far the worst instance of this: Nina Simone is clearly a great influence of Del Rey’s but her cover of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ takes the original’s impassioned and fragile delivery and drains it of all life and innovation.
Sometimes it feels like Honeymoon would have been a better blog post than album
Lana Del Rey has always confused channelling the soul and intent of your idols with just saying their names. More than ever she is doing just that on some of the songs here, while at once performing some her most shameless name dropping elsewhere. It’s an album of no grey areas: I am a fan of some of the material on this record, while some of it is truly horrible – but for the first time in three albums the bad parts are more frustrating than before, because there’s half of a very good album here.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Liam is currently listening to ‘Jack Of All Trades’ by Bruce Springsteen.