Born as Elizabeth Grant in 1985, Lana del Rey has created one of the most enticing personas of the contemporary music scene. Her career so far has not been entirely uncontroversial, and a bad tempered reviewer once called her the musical equivalent of a fake orgasm, after learning that her trailer-park Lolita credentials were not solidly anchored in reality. The quest for something “real” sometimes goes overboard, mixing art as an intellectual endeavour with the often overvalued lure of portrayals of individual personal experiences. I personally find this both reductive and restraining. What actor in a blockbuster movie has ever had real life experiences similar to what is depicted on the screen? Why would a musical or literary artist need to? Art is seeping out of a creative mind in bursts and spurts while digesting the day to day life, just like every other human thought and emotion.
First real album “Born to die” went by my radar totally unnoticed, which is my mistake more than anything else. Filled with great songs this is an extraordinary record establishing Lana del Rey as a force to be reckoned with. Singles “Video Games”, “Blue Jeans” and “Summertime Sadness” are all modern classics and songs that I´ve listened to more times than I´m comfortable of confessing. Melody and drama, emotion disguised as cynicism, coupled with perfect playing and those ethereal lyrics sung both matter of fact and with dreamy abandon. In retrospect it should have been easy to see that something very special was going on.
Follow-up “Ultraviolence” carried a harder edge with it´s Anthony Burgess quote, and was the first of her albums that I bought, as a result of an enthusiastic review in a large Swedish daily. While initial listenings didn´t make that much of an impact it´s now one of my favourite discs, rich with pop-cultural references and a feeling of being the ideal soundtrack to the new Twin Peaks-series. The flirtation between 60´s pop and modern r´n´b comes even more alive than on the first record. Simultaneously laid back, melancholy and edgy this would be considered a great album by any artist.
“Honeymoon” reeled off in a different direction, chanelling the jazz references of Nina Simone as well as more of her intricately accessible pop tunes. Perhaps my least favourite of her records, but still better than what almost everybody else managed to produce at the time. With a series of strong songs, this is still a subdued album mainly looking backwards instead of into the future. The overall impression is a fluffy cloud of opiate satiety. The best songs of the album has a dreamy, narcotic feel while still abounding with slow-burn melody.
Latest album “Lust for Life” brings together all the previous influences into a coherent whole larger than it´s components. The songwriting and melodics has evolved immensely making this a career-changing album. It´s hard to find another record with so many great songs performed so well and feeling so earnest. Listening to this I actually couldn´t give a crap about how much of these lyrics are written from personal experience and what part is just fiction. It truly doesn´t matter since life is life and art is art. The sheer beauty and artistry of these songs are unsurpassed and will continue to be considered modern classics. Yet again a record that I love more than should be considered normal. Not only an album of the week but a disc that has been on regular rotation for months and months, and will continue to be so indefinitely.
Opener “Love” establishes a melancholy but still exuberant mood that will be thematic through the entire record. The freshness of being young and in love lifting the song towards the ending mantra of “don´t worry baby”. As an opening song as good as anything you´ve ever heard before.
The duet between Lara and the Weeknd goes way beyond in it´s slowly unfolding grace. Singing doesn´t get better than this and the heavenly chorus lifts your spirits up and away from the mundanity of everyday existence, into a realm of the sublime. Vocal chords dripping of honey weaving an intricate melody with lyrics to match, as well as a video taking the Nick Cave/PJ Harvey and Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush template into contemporary culture. A rare beauty touching your heartstrings in just the right ways. As far as songs go very few could be said to be better than this one. The pain and pleasure of love encapsulated in a few minutes of pop perfection.
Yet a highlight of this extraordinary album, the exquisiteness of this song makes it unique in so many ways. The simple but alluring melodics paired with unparalleled singing and an arrangement so much fitting the material makes this a tune to remember and cherish. I will never ever tire of listening to this song, and it absolutely knocks me out every time I hear it. This is music as balm for the soul.
“Cherry” revels in beautiful melodies, in the same way that “White Mustang” takes nostalgia and emotionality to the fore. “Summer bummer” and “Groupie love” might be the weakest songs on the album but are still sweet and enjoyable compared to everything else. The next exclamation mark on this great album is “God bless America”, which blends a proud verse with an ecstatic chorus dealing with the power of the women of the USA. Not exactly feminism, but still cherishing the idea of femininity, with a melodic twist and lyrics to boost.
“Beautiful people beautiful problems” presents a juxtapositioning of the voices of Lana del Rey and legendary singer Stevie Nicks, delivering a song rich with connections to the pop music of old refracted through a lens of the present. This is where any normal album would end, but this disc is nothing of the sort. A series of wonderful songs remains to be heard, and they are as good as anything else found on this sublime album.
This is work from an artist on top of her game, and it’s sheer beauty and delivery is nothing short of sensational. While listening to the voices of sceptics you sometimes need to acknowledge what’s really there and how it affects you. This is very accomplished music with tons of style and attitude, both emotional and cerebral and carrying the power to restore your faith in beauty and intelligence.