Having first came into the public consciousness on a wave of hype at the time of her spellbinding single ‘Video Games’ in 2012, it was always debatable whether Lana Del Rey was going to be a stylish flash in the pan. As she arrives at the release of her fifth album, the proof seems to be there that she is in it for the long haul.
At the start, ‘Love’ finds us in familiar territory: full of mood and brooding manufactured lo-fi intensity. Del Rey’s voice is low and tremulous. “Look at you kids with your vintage music” she intones, noting how “signals crossing can get confusing” – a nod to at how looking back is the new looking forward and maybe her own part in that moment. The use of the famous Beach Boys refrain ‘don’t worry baby’ is employed to remind us of the contradiction. The title track follows, featuring The Weekend, and opens like a ’60s doo-wop teeny-bopper tune with a classic voice over intro before the falsetto verse asks a lover to “take off all your clothes”. Production wise it’s sparse but super polished, lacking that bit of grit that would demand the listener pay closer attention. ’13 Beaches’ makes use of strings in a most beautiful way and the vocal delivery is suitably melancholic. You can see why Del Rey’s music is often used in movie soundtracks, she has a broken vulnerability in her tone that just drags you in whether you have been asked to or not. She tells us she has been ‘dying for something real’ as the beat pulses and a simple piano line augments the whole.
The guitar in ‘Cherry’ adds a bluesy feel that is most welcome and ‘White Mustang’ keeps up the down on their luck suburban Americana that she does so well. ‘Summer Bummer’ and ‘Groupie Love’ add an R&B flavour to proceedings with ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti guest starring. However, the vocal styling remains the same so the tracks never really feel as much of a radical departure as they should. For all that it works – thanks mainly to the power of Del Rey’s voice and personality. ‘In My Feelings’, ‘Coachella-Woodstock in my mind’ and ‘God Bless America – and All the Beautiful Women in It’ dispel any such worries as the quality never dips.
‘When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing’, with its refrain of “is this the end of America?” shows she is politically engaged and her voice soars in the chorus backed by a delicious soundscape of synth and strings. Stevie Nicks features to great effect on ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’, while ‘Tomorrow Never Came’ sees Sean Lennon make a cameo and their is a definite Beatles chord progression at work. ‘Heroin’, ‘Change’ and ‘Get Free’ (echoes of 1960s pop and, rather surprisingly, Radiohead) close an album that could have done with a bit of trimming. Overall, Del Rey has carved out a niche that works very well and if you like that smokey, Lynchian netherworld that her voice often evokes this is the album for you.