Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life
This is Iggy Pop, surely.
I can’t hear “Video Games” anymore without remembering the snippets of dialogue from the music video, the bizarre cut and paste collages of mysterious lovers, California sunsets, and emboldened American iconography that somehow felt timely and timeless in the wash of 2012. And people falling off skateboards. Always takes me back. The release of Born to Die began a chain of events both seismic and deeply personal. Obama’s re-election. My first time. Hours of running around campus that fall listening to “Blue Jeans”. Rey’s 4th LP, Lust For Life emerges not just as a cheeky reference to Pop’s venerable 1977 release, but a touchstone for a half-decade of influence and mutable meta-morph. We descend a world away from 2012 as we hurtle mid-trip through the first gasps of our new millennium.
I decided to ask myself what it was that grabbed me back then. And what’s worth hearing now.
2012 Me: Oh, weird. How did you find me?
2017 Me: You still had facebook back then. It was easy.
2012: Wait, I shouldn’t have facebook?
2017: I’m not here to change the timeline. Just check out this Lana Del Rey album.
[Time + Sound in a blender]
2012: Damn. The drums are a lot better. Also Lana sounds less like a baby.
2017: Yeah. Way clearer. “In My Feelings”, for instance, sounds almost like “Maxinequaye” era Tricky. “13 Beaches”, too, takes your favorite syrupy string sound and lets the Portishead drums + chirps float through the background like aimless gulls.
2012: “Summer Bummer” sounds right off of “Born to Die”. Lana must really identify with that season.
2017: Sure. I think there are a couple like that. The color blue also pops up everywhere, “Get Free”, the title track, “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems”. They’re some of the more profound cuts, though. “Cherry”, “White Mustang”, even “Groupie Love” start the album off an awkwardly forgettable note. Have you seen the video for “National Anthem”?
2012: The one with that A$AP Rocky guy? Yeah, it’s cool that Lana has this weird hip-hop aesthetic too.
2017: It seems that way now – but ask yourself – how much is there to gain really from that sort of vague cultural juxtaposition? To clarify, four albums later it doesn’t feel much further thought out.
2012: Yeah, but JFK…
2017: I know, but they also have the freaking gunshot in the video! That’s somebody’s family and a national tragedy slash presidential assassination they’re aping so Lana can play Marilyn Monroe and Jackie O. And the lyrics are largely nonsense. “Queen of Saigon”?? To their credit, it was a few years ahead of that movie, though…
2012: What are you talking about?
2017: Nevermind. Now “Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind” is really a pivot. Normally Lana’s music is so vaguely referential, “stairway to heaven”, “blue velvet”, “voice divine”, whatever. But here’s a song that touches on national tension with North Korea –
2012: Kim Jon Un just came to power, too. Do you remember all the jokes people used to make in high school?
2017: Yeah. It’s weird to think how the past five years have pushed us further and further to the brink of nuclear tension. There’s some real shit that’s gonna go down. Un and “Born to Die” came into world consciousness just months apart, now here we are. “God Bless America…” covers a weird territory, too, channeling a version of that same Americana-pastiche into a quasi-feminist anthem.
2012: Feminist? Back here everybody is calling for Lana’s head for being anti-feminist!
2017: Nah, mostly it’s just for not knowing how to talk about feminism. If your dad bankrolled your botched first album you probably wouldn’t know how to run around the finer points of 3rd wave either. Matter of fact, you don’t. Remember when you told Ashley you were “more feminist than a lot of women you know”?
2017: We all have a lot to learn. And I guess that’s what you can take away from “Lust for Life”, largely. It’s not a seismic shift in the Lana Del Rey worldview, really, although there are glimpses of another, brighter place as Lana squirms out of the sad-trad narratives that culminated in the loli-vomit of “Ride”. And trust me kid, that’s when this will all be a bit too much for you. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Or maybe just something that I’m realizing. Do you remember the first time we looked at pornography?
2012: Those Playboys (and that Playgirl?) that Dad kept under the couch.
2017: Googling “xxx women” on the computer and telling Mom and Dad you’d been looking for “X-Men”. They didn’t even find it, we just told them before we even saw anything because we were scared they’d find it in the search history. Crying and crying.
2012: Why are you bringing this up?
2017: Go back and listen to “Born to Die”. Or heck, just watch the videos. Every conversation you have about Lana Del Rey revolves around image, attraction, fuckability. Where do you think that comes from? “Born to Die” was the alpha and omega of pop sexualization for you, a sort of gateway drug for socially acceptable jerking away. It’s like Japanese Idol culture, where the story surrounding this person is secondary to the fact that we lemmings are obviously obsessed with staring at them. You hear a person crying out in pain, or at least playing the part pretty damn convincingly, and you go to Twitter to look at Vogue covers. Look, I… I’m not trying to be so judgmental –
2012: Yeah, what the fuck.
2017: I’m just saying, miring yourself in something so unhappy isn’t going to help you. It’s the pop version of what you do to yourself when connecting with another person feels too difficult. It’s why you won’t stay a fan. And I’m not trying to ignore the way it’s significant to have sexuality or sadness in your art, mostly pointing out the ways it lines up with your own depression. Part of getting older is recognizing the patterns you fall into, and so is listening to an artist after four albums.
2012: Moving on. So where does this new album leave us?
2017: A corny, nostalgic, moonwashed opalescent dream. Right down to the “Tiny Dancer” references on “Tomorrow Never Came” and the creamy Sean Ono Lennon vocal. “Isn’t life crazy now that I’m singing with Sean?”
2012: So referential (or reverential?), lol. Promptly followed by “Heroin”. “It’s hot…”
2017: Yeah, this one is mucky. While Lana has opted for a few choice Rocky features, it really reminds of the structure of Danny Brown’s “XXX” album.
2012: Dude, he’s garbage.
2017: I’m not a dude. I’m older you. And trust me, that album is genius and you’re the dummy. It basically frontloads the album with opulent bangers and then flips the switch on realness and introspection. Most of the songs on “Lust for Life” that leave an impact, or indicate emotional introspection, fall in that second half. The hedge-podge nature of the whole thing, though, mashing Honeymoon style LA noir on “Heroin” with the vulnerable incandescence of “Change” is a bit of a wash, contextually. And with a runtime stretching over a brutal, many-sided hour, it’s tough to know which side of this looking-glass Gemini you’re truly seeing.
2012: “Change can be a powerful thing”…
2017: “I want to get off but I keep ridin’ the ride”.
2012: “It’s more than just a video game”…
2017: But not much more.
2012: Does it still hurt?
2017: It probably always will. But not as much as you’d think. Partway through the record Lana asks – “is this the end of America?” In five short years we moved from “Blue Jeans” to mass destruction. And sometimes, looking at old video or photos of you, I see someone less afraid of how much we don’t know. I put this album on and I hear the quiet evolution of a soul, still at war with the many jagged edges of itself. And I look back at you, at what we loved when we were lost, and I realize that there is so much good to be spoken of for someone like Lana Del Rey’s evolution, and the way it mirrors our own quiet conscious.
2012: But will you listen to it again?
2017: Probably not for a while. But you will.