BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Get that cigarette smoke out. of. my. face....
You all keep asking me what I think about Lust for Life, so here this is. I thought long and hard about it, and I've listened several dozen times, and I don't think I'll disagree with myself anytime soon, (If I do, I'll let you know), so I feel comfortable saying what I've said below.
(On that note, I want to say something very sincerely: every artist is also a person—so any critique I have here is for the recording artist Lana Del Rey. I am sure that Elizabeth Grant put her heart and soul into this—as she does all of her work—so anything I say below is not meant to reduce that, but to discuss the structure, narrative and emotionality of the album.)
1. Oh dear Lana, what have I gotten myself into here? When Ultraviolence happened, it happened to me. At me. Like, it was made specifically for me, and it destroyed me and built me up again. And I could feel that it was very deeply made from her, too. I could feel Lana deeply inhabit it. It was a sort of marking of history. I fell into its black waves with ease, and it felt like a friend—and a foe, all wrapped in one—came up behind me and shoved me down into a rose garden at night and whispered all sorts of fuckery into my ears. That said, I know better than to expect another Ultraviolence—especially since, as a writer, I will never write the same book twice and I would personally like people to give me room to fucking evolve. Then, when Honeymoon came out, it felt like Ultraviolence’s more sober sister, the kind of sister who wakes up extra early to curl her, who roams the garden in the morning and plucks all sorts of breakfast herbs. I understood this sister. I liked her. She was captivated by love and its brokenness and yet she through herself head into it. She tried happiness. She was hurt. Ultra felt like the bad sister, the one who crashed cars and smoked with bad boys and continuously kept fucking herself over. Both very feverishly honest. Ultra and Honey felt like a continuum, albeit different enough to stand alone—and they felt like the obvious next step of growth and evolution from Born to Die and Paradise Edition. (Which set the groundwork for the thematic sojourn of LDR). But Lust for Life feels like it doesn’t fall onto that continuum. And that confuses me.
2. Confusion is good. It means art is working, maybe? Or maybe not. I want to preface this all by saying I am Church Lana. I get the girl. Or I think I get the girl—or whatever image she’s built. I don’t own a Lana Del Rey Etsy candle (yet—please buy me one) but I have written about her on numerous occasions and blurbed at least three books about her. So. Please understand that what follows comes from love. I am confused because the album feels very two sided, like a Gemini. But it wants to be a Scorpio, or maybe even a Leo? It feels like it wants to go in several directions: One is the dark ambient trip pop of Cherry, Summer Bummer, 13 Beaches, White Mustang, Groupie Love, In My Feelings and the saddies Get Free, Change, Heroin. And the other is the rest of the tunes and the singles—which are, to me, the weakest (and possibly where the heart of Lust for Life is supposed to sit?).
3. I admittedly don’t love the rest of the songs (namely When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing and Coachella—more on that below), and it’s not because they’re not good songs. All of the songs are fucking good songs, and a hell of a lot better than all of the other pandering capitalist musical wounds out there these days. It’s that they feel less substantive than the others.
4. Why less substantive? Coachella is, as Alexandra Naughton aptly put it for Entropy, a "corny song about thinking about all the children and poor people in the world while watching Father John Misty, probably, swing his hips on stage at an overpriced outdoor music festival." I never thought I’d say this before—and if by some miracle of fate Lana Del Rey reads this, I truly love you and I am sorry—but it feels self-congratulatory and sort of reductive to what I think its true intentions are. I think all artists, whether subtly or more directly should feel free to encounter the political—but I think there's a way to do it well, and a reason not to force it. In this case, either sing about the world’s atrocities or sing about a festival where another musician rocks the crowd. It can’t be both. There’s no rule that it can’t be both. But it can’t, because it sounds fucking lame and icky. And then there’s "When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing," which feels like it desperately wants to be part of today’s political commentary, but falls short by giving into cliches (love will save the world, guys) when the reality is that today is literally EXACTLY the time to take action and not to keep dancing through it, metaphorically or not—things are really, really fucking serious right now. Please spare the platitudes. Sorry. Not sorry.
5. I’m pretty meh on the collabs with Ono Lennon and Nicks. They seem like cool songs, but they seem to rely on the collaborative aspect way too much—rather than the song standing out for simply being a great song (sort of like her Summer Wine—it was much-less, "this is a song with two singers"). I am, however, glad to see that Lana pair with such respected musicians. She deserves it; her cup should runneth over with opportunity.
6. Summer Bummer and Groupie Love are my favorite tracks. They're sultry as hell, and it feels like sweaty skin and long car rides along the ocean and cigarette smoke and white sheets damp with ocean water and sneaky sex late at night in some semi-public place. A$AP Rocky adds a lot to the mix, too.
7. Cherry feels like it says, "I am the heart of this album" or "I'm the heart of what this album could have been." (I did not say 'should'). It’s got the things we suspect—oppressive, obsessive romantic meanderings, undying devotion to living inside that pain Born to Die-era electronica, cherries and wine, witchy herbs—but it’s also got this "I’ve grown up and I’m angry"—all that 'bitch’ and ‘fuck,’ and I love this. It doesn’t get much more Lana than this: "My rose garden dreams, set on fire by fiends, and all my black beaches are ruined. My celluloid scenes are torn at the seams."
8. Can we have a moment of silence, "Because I love you so much, I fall to pieces?" [Go on, turn it on, sing with me].
9. I feel the need to reiterate something: Even if Lana wanted this ENTIRE album to be an album of Coachellas and slightly political lines here and there, I would still say: We do need to respect an artist’s right to evolve. A person—an artist, especially—changes. We wouldn’t be good humans if we needed them to live inside their pain in perpetuity just to deliver something to us that can us move through our own. That said, I think any work of art should have at least a common thread, some core, some engine powering the whole thing. (This is not an argument for the obvious or for easiness, but an argument for not being messy without gain). And while Lust for Life might be a compendium of all of Lana’s fragments and visions and selves, it just feels like it could have used an editor.
As I continue listening, I'll update you with any further ideas. In the meantime, what do you think?
Lisa Marie Basile is an editor, writer and poet living in NYC. She is the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and the author of APOCRYPHAL (Noctuary Press, 2014), as well as a few chapbooks: Andalucia (Poetry Society of New York), War/Lock(Hyacinth Girl Press), and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). Her book NYMPHOLEPSY (co-authored with poet Alyssa Morhardt-Goldstein), was a finalist in the 2017 Tarpaulin Sky Book Awards.
You can find her books on Amazon & Small Press Distribution.
Her poetry and other work can be or will be seen in PANK, Spork, The Atlas Review, Tarpaulin Sky, the Tin House blog, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, Rogue Agent, Moonsick Magazine, Best American Poetry, Spoon River Poetry Review, PEN American Center and the Ampersand Review, among others.