Lust for Life is the first Lana Del Rey album I’ve ever really listened to, although I had been generally familiar with her sound and aesthetic ever since “Video Games” made the rounds back in 2011. Enough ink has been spilled (or more realistically, bytes of storage space allocated) over Lana’s said vintage 70s Los Angeles vibe to warrant me skipping that aspect of her artistry, but I will say that I tend to respect and admire artists that do stick to a well-defined aesthetic vision, and Lana’s latest only ratchets up that process filter Hollywood nostalgia another notch.
Lust for Life is 72 minutes of slow, atmospheric, moody ballads about romanticizing relationships that feel real only in the way old polaroid photos do; they approximate reality, but there’s something too inherently dramatic about the colors and lighting to ever see them as real scenes. Take “Groupie Love“, one of two A$AP Rocky features (whose verses pair surprisingly well with Lana’s apathetic choral intonation), where Lana’s protagonist ignores the reality of her typically low-stakes groupie relationship and replaces it with something far more loving and intimate – “It’s so sweet, swingin’ to the beat / When I know that you’re doin’ it all for me.” As the star, Rocky allows himself to be seduced by the fantasy (“you and I, so who do we trust? / You and I ’til the day we die”), and the cinematic strings and reverb effects complete track. The song perfectly represents the juxtaposition of emotions on Lust for Life; every word on the track is inherently positive, but within the production exists the dreaded truth that relationships framed this way exist only in Lana’s imagination.
The wonderful and gorgeous opener, “Love“, sounds entirely sincere, remarking on the inherent desire to squeeze every last ounce of pleasure and happiness out of youth (“You get ready you get all dressed up / To go nowhere in particular / Back to work or the coffee shop / It don’t matter because it’s enough to be young and in love”), but the fact that Lana is devoting the better part of her album as an ode to perfectly capturing the feeling before it becomes heartbreaking nostalgia infers the other side of the coin. The title-track, featuring The Weeknd, follows up with an almost identical sentiment, but magnified down to a single night, and with the threat of death (or worse, adulthood) rearing its head a bit more transparently (“We dance on the H of the Hollywood sign / then we run out of breath, gotta dance til we die // And a lust for life keeps us alive”). And “Coachella – Woodstock in My Mind” sounds very much based in reality, but the inherent extravagance and escapism of the modern day music festival is about as far from real life as one can get within their local metro’s city limits, and Lana seems to realize this as she steps back and observes the scene from an older, more objective place (“What about all these children / and all their children’s children? / And why am I even wondering that today?”).
The record’s excellent front side is rounded out with the stories of relationships breaking apart at the seems (“Cherry”, “In My Feelings”) in overwrought, dramatic fashion (“Is it real love? It’s like smiling when the firing squad’s against you”), lamenting over a summer fling in which our protagonist is essentially Tired of Sex (“Summer Bummer”, which features a great A$AP Rocky verse), and perhaps the crashing back to earth that spells the death of the relationship with the musician from “Groupie Love” on “White Mustang”. By the pretty, optimistic, 10th-sequenced swan song “God Bless America – and All the Beauitful Women in It”, the closest thing to a ‘fist pumper’ we could ever expect from a Lana Del Rey album (I can just see the giant projected flag waving behind her at the live show), it feels like Lana has delivered her message and her vibe in a timely, succinct, and effective package. There are absolute highlights, good features, and a nice push and pull of youthful excitement and world-wearied lamentation.
But the record isn’t 10 songs. It’s 16 songs, and the final 6 feel both unnecessary and somewhat betraying of the album’s fairly insular perspective. “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing” is an unnecessary political statement from an artist who works best as a blissed out blinder to my daily newsfeed, and it offers far from an innovative take on the current state of geopolitical affairs (“Is it the end of an era / Is it the end of America?”) Similarly, “Heroin” feels like an unnecessary foray into the familiar-to-the-point-of-cliche rock song staple subject of using drugs to numb one from the harshness of reality (though to be clear, this song remarks on the tragic usage of another person, and it does feature a pretty intense ‘screaming’ section – “It’s fucking hot! Hot!”). But to me, most egregious is “Tomorrow Never Came”, a riff on The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Comes” and a duet with John Lennon’s son, Sean Lennon, in which the production, melody and specifically Sean’s attempt to imitate his dad’s vocals so poorly represent The Fab Foursome it verges on parody even before the lyrics take a cringeworthy turn into self-reference- “Lennon and Yoko, we would play all day long / “Isn’t life crazy?”, I said now that I’m singin’ with Sean”. (Vomits.)
Still, I find myself returning to Lust for Life over and over, thanks in no small part to the fact that because of it’s length I don’t often get past the ninth or tenth track, but also because I really like Lana’s vocal stylings, I really like the production, the album is easy to have on in a variety of scenarios, and the lyrics are almost always good and often filled with interesting takes on the fantasies that are historical relationships. I don’t think this album is doing anything really original – Lana’s three previous LPs serve of evidence of that- but it completes its mission admirably, and I can forgive the glaring lack of tight editing on the track list (seriously, very, very few albums really need to be 72 minutes or longer). If you didn’t like Lana Del Rey before, Lust for Life isn’t gonna change your mind. But if you wanna feel like your drunk on lust and melting on the beach in some instagram-filter world, Lust for Life just might be for you.
Score: 9 / 13