Lana Del Rey’s ‘Honeymoon’: Album Review

If Lana Del Rey really wanted to revisit the dark-pop of Born To Die (as she told Billboard earlier this year), then she failed miserably. While that album delivered accessible anthems cloaked in gloom, Honeymoon is an exquisitely bitter pill to swallow. The pace is languid, the hooks are well camouflaged and the themes aren’t always relatable. But if you submit to the diva’s retro soundscape, and let her finely wrought torch songs waft over you like cigarette smoke, you’ll be rewarded with her most complex and fully realized work to date.

There’s a timelessness to Honeymoon that is initially quite jarring. Lana turns to the past for inspiration (old Hollywood, faded glamor and classic jazz records) as she has done so many times before, but this time it’s more than a homage. The chanteuse bypasses the more tedious constraints of contemporary pop music altogether, delivering a record that gently sways between sprawling, jazz-tinged lounge ballads and brooding noir-pop hybrids with hip-hop arrangements. The result is an album that transports you to a different time and place.

Given the LP’s preoccupation with mood and atmosphere, it’s hard to speak of individual highlights. Each song is a piece in a much larger puzzle. Lead single “High By The Beach” is one of the few crumbs the songbird throws radio-reared millennials. In many ways, it’s the bridge between Ultraviolence and Honeymoon. The menacing tone and hazy beats are familiar, but the scope is grander and the hooks are harder to find. The perspective is also different. Our heroine has grown tired of playing the victim. She’s the one breaking hearts this time around.

The only other track with obvious single potential is “Music To Watch Boys To.” Gorgeously orchestrated and produced (Rick Nowels and Kieron Menzies are the unsung heroes of Honeymoon), the mischievous slow jam finds Lana scoping out future prospects. “Velveteen and living single, it never felt that right to me,” she coos. “I know what only the girls know, lies can buy eternity.” It’s a dark and mysterious gold-digger anthem for the ages.

That defiance also shines through on similarly upbeat (by the album’s standards) tracks “Art Deco” and “Freak.” While the former is lyrically questionable, it delivers a slick groove and an instantly hummable chorus. The latter is probably the most contemporary sounding track on Honeymoon. After a dreamy introduction complete with strings and horns, Lana rides a rolling hip-hop beat as she coos: “Baby if you want to leave, come to California. Be a freak like me too.”

The Golden State is also referenced in album lynchpin “God Knows I Tried.” To be more specific, it name checks The Eagles’ “Hotel California” and encapsulates, perhaps better than any other track, Lana’s obsession with the dark side of celebrity. “I feel free when I see no one and no one knows my name,” she sings over strummed guitar and the faint hum of cicadas. “I’ve got nothing left to live for since I found my fame.”

However, that resignation evaporates on the gloomily beautiful “Swan Song,” which documents a possible escape from her Hollywood prison. “Why work so hard when you could just be free?” she sings, perhaps to herself. “You got your moment now, you got your legacy.” Or perhaps, it’s a promise to a lover that she could leave it all behind for him. “I will never sing again,” she declares. Regardless of the interpretation, there’s a glimmer of defiance here.

Another essential cut is “The Blackest Day.” A six-minute blockbuster about the emotional fall-out that follows the end of relationship, it begins unassumingly enough with a sparse acoustic arrangement. “Ever since my baby went away, it’s been the blackest day,” Lana laments. “All I hear is Billie Holiday, it’s all that I play.” The track then plunges into a dark orchestral soundscape as the diva slowly falls apart at the seems. It’s breathtaking in its scope and flawless execution.

Even more audacious is the doe-eyed diva’s “Burnt Norton (Interlude).” Setting T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton to music is the most quintessential Lana Del Rey thing to ever happen. She recites a particularly abstract passage (“if all time was eternally present, all time was unredeemable”) over a haunting score. While exceedingly pretty, it’s tempting to dismiss the interlude as an affectation. That is until you hear the song that follows it.

Eliot argues that a higher power must exist in Burnt Norton. Lana seems to disagree, however, placing the physical above the spiritual on “Religion” — a tortured love song that exudes desperation and regret. “It never was about the money or the drugs,” the “Summertime Sadness” hitmaker laments. “For you there’s only love.” She then slides into obsessive mode: “When I’m down on my knees you’re how I pray.” The juxtaposition of perspectives is beautiful and thought-provoking.

While the jazzier tracks might be harder to consume for fans, they deserve just as much attention. “24” could be the prettiest revenge anthem ever recorded with its elegant smattering of brass and the clatter of (what I think are) castanets. “If you lie down with dogs, then you’ll get fleas,” Lana warns. “Be careful of the ones you choose to leave.” Softer and dreamier, but just as engaging, is the Sad Girl’s sublime ode to the blues “Terrence Loves You.” Interpolating David Bowie within an airy lounge ballad is bold, but it works within the dizzying universe she has created.

The same goes for polarizing buzz track “Salvatore.” It makes perfect sense within the Honeymoon soundscape, but sounds a little demented on its own. That being said, combining a riff from The Godfather with an accordion and pipes — not to mention rhyming “limousines” with “soft ice cream” — is mad scientist-level pop. That leaves us with the sublimely cinematic title track (“we could cruise to the blues, Wilshire boulevard if you choose”) and Lana’s cover of Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”

It speaks volumes for the quality of the album, and Lana’s growth as an artist and vocalist, that the enduring standard doesn’t outshine the rest of the material. Instead, it feels right at home in Lana’s tapestry of unhappiness, regret and longing.

Idolator Score: 4.5/5

Mike Wass

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