Cover art featuring the previously elusive sight of a smile (albeit one which appears to have been forced at gunpoint). A second single co-produced by the 21st Century’s ultimate hitmaker Max Martin. The talk of being influenced by both Joan Baez and The Shangri-Las. The early signs would appear to suggest that Lizzy Grant has entirely ditched the Hollywood sadcore vibes she’s renowned for on her fifth studio effort (and fourth since adopting her Lana Del Rey moniker).
Lust for Life is indeed a much more optimistic and accessible record than predecessor Honeymoon, a record so resolutely downbeat it almost made Nick Cave sound like Kidz Bop in comparison. Particularly on the lush title track, a collaboration with regular cohort The Weeknd which takes its cue from Phil Spector’s expansive Wall of Sound, and the uplifting trip-hop of “God Bless America – And All the Beautiful Women In It,” surely an alternative national anthem in the making.
But while Lust for Life proves that Del Rey can occasionally turn that frown upside down, the majority of its overly-generous 16 tracks still stick rigidly to her well-worn formula – spacious beats, themes of tragic romance, the sumptuous vocal style which justifies her self-proclaimed status as the gangsta ‘Nancy Sinatra.’ On first listen it’s only the slightly clunky titles (with “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing” a clear winner) and diverse array of guest stars that help distinguish the multitude of soporific ballads from one another.
Indeed, the stoner rhymes of A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti certainly come as a welcome respite from all the vintage Americana on the eerie “Summer Bummer,” while the irrepressible Stevie Nicks very nearly steals the show with a typically turn on the haunting piano balladry of “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems.” The less said about the aimless Sean Ono Lennon-featuring “Tomorrow Never Came,” however, the better.
But like most of Del Rey’s output, Lust for Life’s charms slowly begin to reveal themselves. The lead single “Love,” a stunning meditation on the power of the Big L which throws sly nods to both The Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” and her own fondness for all things retro (“look at you kids with your vintage music/you’re part of the past but now you’re the future”), might actually be her most enchanting torch song to date.
There’s also the odd intriguing production touches, such as the plinky Dr. Dre-esque piano chords on “Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind,” the whistling coda on “White Mustang” and the subtle trap-tinged beats of “In My Feelings.” While the likes of “13 Beaches,” “Cherry” and “Groupie Love” all show that Del Rey has recaptured the melodic sensibilities that appeared to go missing last time around.
Clocking in at a whopping 71 minutes, Lust for Life would have undoubtedly benefited from a bit of editing, with the closing trio of “Heroin,” “Change” and “Get Free” all failing to offer anything that hasn’t been offered before.
Of course, that’s a charge that could be levelled at the majority of the album. But although the reinvention teased before release never materializes, Lust for Life is still a return to form which should cement Del Rey’s status as the queen of femme fatale pop.