There is no one on the pop scene quite like Lana. Love her or hate her, she’s the only major pop star of this generation who even seems to be reaching for something more. There’s a depth to her, even if her sincerity is up for debate (posh big city girl playing the role of destitute femme fatale) and she continues to fascinate on Lust for Life, her latest release.
However, there is little doubt we are now beginning to see diminishing returns from Lana Del Rey.
Lana’s first two albums were big, bold and paid a little more attention to what might chart in the Top 40.
Born to Die may have lacked depth, but it was packed with anthems: ‘Video Games’, ‘Summertime Sadness’, ‘Blue Jeans’ and the title track. At their core, these tracks were big, shameless pop, despite the noir trappings. The writing may have been cookie-cutter, but this made Lana accessible to the widest possible audience, and the album was a smash hit.
On Ultraviolence the seamless pop was replaced with a grungy, distorted sound approaching alt rock. It’s my least favourite of Lana’s albums; the dirty texture of it never quite worked for me. I get why so many people love the album: it took Lana in new directions. It was an artistic leap.
Then there’s Honeymoon, Lana’s most personal album, her most polished and, in my opinion, her best. There aren’t any big anthems to speak of, but as one long flowing piece, it is breathtaking. The pace was dialled down, and nobody was thinking about the pop charts anymore. But the simmering drama was still there, the evocative imagery, and sighing, effortless perfection of each chorus.
The problem is that Lust for Life does not build on or enhance her sound in any way, and it is the first album to fail at doing so. It sounds a lot like Honeymoon and, like that album, the tracks blur into one another in a narcotised haze. That isn’t a criticism of either album – I think that’s the point.
Each subsequent album has either built upon or deconstructed Lana’s sound. The only innovation on Lust for Life are the many duets on the record. However these rarely come off.
On ‘Groupie Love’ with A$AP Rocky, Lana becomes a guest on her own song. While I’m all for Stevie Nicks singing on anyone’s song (because it’s Stevie Nicks) the result here is unflattering: with Lana sounding more like Manchester’s Finest Stevie Nicks Tribute Band. The duet with The Weeknd is plodding at best and tortuously slow at worst. If you have a duet with the hottest pop star on the planet right now, at least give it a bit of swing.
Lust for Life is not a bad album. In fact, it’s a great album. This writer listened to it in the best circumstances: Walking along the beach whilst slightly feverish. I enjoy this as I’ve enjoyed all of Lana’s work, but for her next project she needs to try something new.
Her sound rests along so many musical fault-lines; dipping into big-band, R&B, classic rock and baroque pop. It’s maddening that she continues to retrain herself to such a small palette. On album five (yes, I know it’s technically already five) we need something different.