What a strange, enigmatic pop star Lana Del Rey is. Despite nearly torpedo-ing her career before it even started with that infamous SNL performance, she’s carved her niche as a YouTube-generation torch singer, thanks to the atmospheric “Video Games” off 2012’s Born to Die.
Subsequent releases have been rapturously received by both critics and her rabid fanbase, yet excepting a fluke remix of “Summertime Sadness,” her songs rarely grace top 40 radio. Unburdened with the need to generate huge singles, Del Rey’s albums instead function as masterclasses in evocative dream-pop.
Del Rey’s fifth LP, Lust For Life, continues this trend, with each track infused with her trademark lush, Wall-of-Sound production. Booming lead single, “Love” exemplifies this best, with the song’s nearly operatic grandiosity enveloping you like a warm embrace on a cold evening.
Likewise, the Max-Martin-penned title track shines, as Del Rey and the Weeknd trade surreal lines about “dancing on the H of the Hollywood sign” against the best production this side of a Phil Spector song. And as always, Del Rey’s vocals stun and enchant with effortless beauty, allowing her to glaze over some of the album’s so-so lyrics (“high tops in the summer/don’t be a bummer”).
Despite largely preaching to the choir, Lust For Life still manages some subtle surprises: the confident, hip-hop swagger of “Summer Bummer” recalls past Born to Die glories. The echo-y “In My Feelings” is a brilliant fuck-off, with Del Rey sneering, “get that cigarette smoke outta my face.” And while she normally sings solo, the album is sprinkled with surprising guest vocalists, including Sean Lennon on ‘60s-love-letter, “Tomorrow Never Came,” and a meeting-of-ethereal-minds duet with Stevie Nicks on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems.”
Also, while the album tackles familiar terrain (summer in “White Mustang,” love in “Groupie Love,” and America in “God Bless America—And All the Beautiful Women in It”), Del Rey struggles with an existential millennial dilemma in “Coachella—Woodstock on My Mind,” as she fails to reconcile a weekend of music festival bliss against mounting tensions with North Korea. This small, toe-dip into politics—along with her recent announcement that she’ll stop using American flag imagery because of President Trump—stands in stark contrast to Del Rey’s typically unrelenting Americana obsession, whilst expertly showcasing her growth as an artist.
Because so many of Lust For Life’s songs sound like silky smooth stoner anthems, the album lacks the dramatics peaks and valley associated with more traditionally-pop albums (and it’s about three songs too long). This relative uniformity won’t convert any newcomers, but to her slavishly devoted fans, Lust For Life perfectly encapsulates Del Rey’s enigmatic, singular brilliance.