Lana Del Rey has frustrated us. The Queen of Twitter replies couldn’t have lost us more with her Lust For Life campaign, effectively a dreary sludge of singles that tour her worst and most indulgent sides. It may have been a schtick keeping her active for now, but there really is a saturation point for the cycle of “white dress/red dress/bad-boy lover/’I want to die'”. It’s diminishing returns, practically to the point that one of us begs for euthanasia.
But make no mistake, this is a woman who is painstakingly in control of every move she makes. From the ironic title to the awkward, forced smile on the cover, there’s always been as much Lizzy Grant at work here as there has Lana Del Rey. So this Lust starts with Love, a paean to the nostalgia-driven youth that holds aloft the very audience that’s done the same for her. It’s oddly celebratory but bears all the hallmarks of Lana 2.0 – pounding drums, slowly stirring strings, and (er) the occasional gunshot in the background just in case the death motif strayed too far away. Lana’s still sad, gang. Still super-sad. And she’s armed with pithy Instagram-ready quotes to prove it.
Still, it’s one of the better songs on the album and rings with more sincerity than any of her more commercial forays. That’s where Lana suffers, introducing The Weeknd on the dreary title track or A$AP Rocky on Summer Bummer and Groupie Love (the former turning her into a me-too trap-R&B nonsense, the latter painfully predictable with progressions that should have stayed firmly in Honeymoon). The inclusions are superficial – like when an all-white drama shoehorns in a black character – they mesh badly with her sound, and they’re arguably the weakest tracks on the record.
But in the meat of the album Lana soars higher than she has for a long, long time. 13 Beaches is an incredible moment: honest, yet suitably cinematic without being melodramatic. Though largely the production seems unremarkable (given that most people fit around the Lana template, whether it’s Max Martin or Benny Blanco), it’s another element that’s totally at the mercy of its mistress – Cherry is beautifully understated, and for the first time since Cruel World she makes us sit up with a fiery, feisty In My Feelings (“Who’s doper than this bitch? Who’s freer than me? You wanna make the switch/ Be my guest baby”).
Lana Del Rey knows, though. Just as she did when she emerged, just as she does with her long-winded song titles. Which makes it harder to forgive an obtuse lack of self-awareness on Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind (whose lyrics we can’t even bear to repeat), an embarrassing, almost infuriating take on political strife with When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing, and of course the inevitable Stevie Nicks yawn-fest of Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems. If we didn’t know better we’d think the irony were lost in all the enforced gravity.
But forgive it we bloody well will, in a rare case that an album of 16 tracks is actually beneficial in preventing us from writing it off. It’s in the final triumvirate of Heroin, Changes, and Get Free that Lana Del Rey reminds us exactly who she can be, turning even trite lines into something eminently listenable and carving some breathtaking moments in the endless melancholy. And once again, she frustrates us: we want to see through it, we want to dismiss it, but the savvy designs of Lizzy Grant – knowing how to please every crowd, obscure enough to piss no one off – allow her the commercial indulgences of Lana Del Rey. More of the former and less of the latter might help her case in future; for now her Lust For Life and all its vagaries is as complicated, maddening, and beautiful as you’d expect.