Lana Del Rey Lust For Life Polydor / Interscope
Lana Del Rey is at a crossroads. For each of her four album covers, the artist has been pictured alongside an automobile, that great American symbol that purrs with ideas of power and freedom. These qualities wouldn’t have been lost on an artist who’s fine-tuned her own iconography by draping herself in a red, white and blue patchwork of mythologies – from Old Hollywood to Brooklyn hipsterism. But now, her beloved ‘murica has screwed her over as bad as any of those douchebags she was dating: as she was assembling her own American falsehoods, someone else was too.
In the lead up to this record, Lana Del Rey broke her embargo on politics by inviting fans to hex the incumbent Trump administration. In a recent Pitchfork profile she confessed she’d sooner stand in front of static than the American flag, and Lust for Life marks the moment that pop’s favourite sad girl turns her gaze to the bigger picture. “Is it the end of America?” she asks on When the World Kept Dancing, before the 32-year-old advises us to, “Lean into the fucking youth”. Of course, this being Lana Del Rey, the politics comes with a side order of high camp: God Bless America – and All the Beautiful Women In It is a Metro Boomin’ assisted torch song punctuated by guitar and gunshots.
There’s developments elsewhere too; the production is again heady, perfumed and hip-hop informed, but this time the music’s decorated with a dressing up box of 60s and 70s references. Tomorrow Never Came features Sean Ono Lennon on a track that not only signposts The Beatles but crams in references to Bob Dylan and Elton John as well. There’s Phil Spectorish drums and motorcycle revs on The Weeknd featuring Lust for Life, a song so supersized only the lyric “Climb up the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign” would do.
The Malibu gothic of Summer Bummer concedes to modernity by calling on Playboi Carti and A$AP Rocky, but where Carti’s adlibs are effective as part of the woozy production, Rocky’s on-the-nose verse comes close to destroying the illusion. Stevie Nicks is a more natural fit, embellishing slow-burning ballad Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems with a grizzled grace.
But really, this is an album that’s at its best when it rhymes personal ennui with an ache of the nation. On Coachella, Woodstock of My Mind Del Rey paints an image of her besides the main stage, her enjoyment of Father John Misty tempered by thoughts of global conflict. It’s hilarious, self parodical, but the metaphor is apt: hippie counterculture was, of course, the last time the US got its ideals smashed. Wait, you thought that Charles Manson reference on later track Heroin was coincidence?
Where once Lana Del Rey’s world was a small as the circumference of the muscular arms that encircled her, now it’s as big as the fears that rattle us all – and it’s this widening of her vision that makes Lust for Life her most compelling LP yet. Pop music, like the truck on the cover, is a means of escape, of empowerment. “This is my commitment, my modern manifesto, I’m doing it for all of us,” runs the pre-chorus to the closer. It’s title? Get Free. Amen.