Maybe the only album that features both A$AP Rocky and Stevie Nicks.Interscope Records, 2017
Purchase: Interscope Records / Amazon
7.5 / 10
Maybe I’ve only got Twin Peaks on my mind because the show is back on the air, but it’s easy to see the appeal of Lana Del Rey in light of the Lynch/Frost production. Del Rey peddles a brand of nostalgic Americana gone wrong, with music that is, on the surface glossy and fun. But like David Lynch’s movies (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me, Mulholland Drive), this American ideal is just a pretty front for something sinister, vacuous, and corrupted. Del Rey has been like this since Born To Die.
Sure, she’s dressed up in a mod fashion style, not unlike a fembot from Austin Powers. But her lyrics are all about suicide, abusive men, and drugs. To be fair, the act has never even been a little bit convincing. Most of this stuff comes across like an elaborate, extended Let’s-Play-Pretend session. Regardless of if Del Rey means any of the lyrics she sings, it feels about as authentic as Thom Yorke rapping about his experiences as a gangsta.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, right? Nobody really believed that David Bowie was a Starman. An entity whose purpose was to save humanity by having them love one another again. But it was fun, and that ridiculous concept allowed him to write and perform some songs that he wouldn’t have otherwise (for example: “Moonage Daydream” was written before Bowie became Ziggy Stardust, but it didn’t fit on anything else he was working on until then).
So let’s talk about Lust For Life, Del Rey’s fourth or fifth album, depending on how you count them. If the name sounds familiar, it should. It’s a straight lift from Iggy Pop’s comeback record. It’s an allusion to a classic record, and boy is this record full of that kind of stuff. Whether it’s name-checking classic songs from bands of the ’60s / ’70s (“Heroin”, “Lust for Life”, “Get Free”), bringing in guests Stevie Nicks and Sean Ono Lennon, and singing about cold-war anxiety, Woodstock, groupies, and peace, dude. She wants to inspire a feeling in you. And let’s be honest, it’s a feeling you’ve only experienced second-hand.
Lana Del Rey doesn’t exactly draw the baby boomer demographic. And if you’re thinking that this all sounds cheap, hollow, and thin, you’d be correct, and that’s kind of the point. Lust For Life is an ode to a time and place that never existed except in our collective memories. Even then, all those callbacks and images are on the surface, covering up a highly synthesized record that sometimes loses itself — and not in a good way — to drugs and lust. Like Twin Peaks, where the 1950s Americana is a temporary distraction from the corruption and disease from modern living. There’s a reason Lynch and Del Rey have expressed affection for one another’s work — they work with the same themes using similar means.
Like other Del Rey albums, Lust For Life took a small army of writers and producers to create. Prominent among them is Rick Nowels, who co-wrote most of the songs with Del Rey. Nowels is an old hand — he wrote the 1987 “Heaven is a Place on Earth” hit by Belinda Carlisle. He’s written a ton of songs you know, and his fingerprints have been on virtually everything Del Rey has worked on since Paradise. As you might imagine, the album can be uneven at times, with the variety of producers, writers, and guest spots Lust For Life showcases.
The biggest bruises on the album come from this: the 72-minute runtime (!!!) and the horrible guest appearances of The Weeknd and Stevie Nicks. To be fair to Nicks, “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” is one of the worst songs in Lana Del Rey’s discography. It wouldn’t have mattered if she brought her A-game anyways. The heart of the album loses itself in some uninteresting songs. This makes a fair case that this album should have been about 20 minutes shorter at the least, as the first several and last several songs are quite good.
And “quite good” might be the adjective to use here. Lust For Life isn’t transformative. Lana Del Rey’s aesthetics (visual and audial) have changed, but only slightly. It’s not as good and melody-heavy as Born To Die, and it’s not the auteurist, masterpiece-in-disguise Ultraviolence. But it’s better than Honeymoon and Paradise, and the songs here can be ridiculously enjoyable. It’s both an indictment and love-letter to the American dream. You know, you could always just listen to David Lynch’s solo records, but why subject yourself to that?