NEW YORK – Lana Del Rey emerged on the music scene as a haunting figure. She was “Born to Die,” in the words of her breakthrough album, and darkness permeated her sound and worldview.
Five years after “Born to Die,” the prolific singer on Friday put out her fourth major-label album, whose title – “Lust for Life” – would appear to show the inverse mindset.
Yet for the 32-year-old singer, sorrow and joy are intricately interconnected. On “Lust for Life,” she enjoys the world’s pleasures all the while feeling cursed by their ephemerality.
Del Rey carries the album through her quickly recognizable voice, breathy and coquettish yet sauntering with echoes of Nancy Sinatra.
“Lust for Life” builds on Del Rey’s signature cinematic style, melancholic with an aura of classic Hollywood, yet the album also shows touches of hip-hop swagger – most apparent in seamless appearances by rapper A$AP Rocky.
The title track – no relation to punk icon Iggy Pop’s classic “Lust for Life” – brings in emerging R&B superstar The Weeknd, who in his mellifluous falsetto at times reaches a higher range than Del Rey.
Even if the song celebrates life, it opens with a dark allusion to a Hollywood suicide before finding joy in the here and now.
“Take off / Take off all your clothes,” Del Rey intones, as The Weeknd sings, “They say only the good die young / That just ain’t right.”
Del Rey teams up with other major names on the album. Stevie Nicks, her sandy voice smoothly complementing Del Rey’s, joins for “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems,” while Sean Lennon brings a gentle beauty to “Tomorrow Never Came.”
Activism through melancholy
If “Lust for Life” largely stays true to the sound honed by Del Rey, the New York-born singer reaches into new territory as she speaks out, in her own way, on politics.
Del Rey has hardly become a protest singer. But she becomes a uniquely effective voice in turning her forlorn sound into a reflection on the America of Donald Trump.
On “God Bless America – And All Beautiful Women In It,” Del Rey’s gloominess gives way to uplift as she finds solidarity in the masses of women who took to the streets after the shock of Trump’s election.
“May you stand proud and strong / Like Lady Liberty, shining all night long,” Del Rey sings.
The often dour Del Rey is again startling optimistic as she reaches into history on “When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing.”
“Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America? No, it’s only the beginning. If we hold on to hope, we will have a happy ending,” she sings.
In a recent interview with Elle UK, Del Rey said it was impossible in the current moment to escape politics: “It would be weird to be making a record during the past 18 months and not comment.”
Yet her lyricism more often takes up loneliness than community.
The singer who scored an early hit with “Summertime Sadness” returns to similar territory on “Summer Bummer,” while “13 Beaches” relates her struggles to find a quiet place in the sand away from paparazzi.
Del Rey closes the album with “Get Free,” a reflection on the clash between gloom and her outreach to the world.
“Sometimes it feels like I’ve got a war in my mind,” she sings. “I want to get off, but I keep riding the ride.” — AFP