Observations on ‘Honeymoon,’ the newest album by Lana Del Rey
Last month, on a night at midnight, the hour that marked the beginning of September 18, 2015, Lana Del Rey’s newest album Honeymoon was released into world. So, I did what any loyal Lana Del Rey enthusiast would do: turned off the lights, lit candles, and listened to the entire album from start to finish. On repeat. Many times.
It’s a few weeks later and I’m still struggling to put how I feel about this album to words. In all honestly I don’t think I understand it yet. Unlike the first two and a half Lana Del Rey albums (if you count Born to Die: The Paradise Edition, which you must) plus the scattered array of songs she recorded as Lizzy Grant and May Jailer, the songs of Honeymoon have yet to spring the lock to my heart. That’s not to say they aren’t good, they are very good, they’re stunningly beautiful from beginning to end. It’s just that the Lana Del Rey-magical je ne sais quois quality seems to have been replaced by Depression-era jazz vibes. So, instead of spilling Lana-praise onto the page as I normally do when writing about my queen and personal savior, I will use this space to try and understand this creative endeavor via observations.
Observation #1: These songs are heavily sedated
If Born to Die is set at a Fourth of July BBQ in the Hollywood Hills, and Paradise Edition is set in an LSD-induced motorcycle ride through a Costa Rican rainforest, and Ultraviolence is set in a hybrid between a prohibition era speakeasy and Andy Warhol’s Factory, then Honeymoon is set on a secluded beach—maybe Montauk—in the 1940s. In other words: it is lethargic and carefree, overcast and gloomy.
Aside from “Music to Watch Boys To” and “High By The Beach,” every single song is slow enough to put you in a coma. They’re songs you’d hear in a speakeasy blended with subtly psychedelic undertones. They’re songs Isabella Rosselini would sing at a jazz bar while Dennis Hopper creepily strokes a piece of fabric in the audience. In other words, they are many variations on “Blue Velvet” (which she did do a cover of for The Paradise Edition). The tone of this entire album is a throwback to her pre-Lana song “Yayo”, which she re-recorded for The Paradise Edition: slow, melancholy, full of longing and honey-coated, Billie Holiday-style agony.
Observation #2: Bad Girl Rey Rey is gone
However, “Yayo,” like most of Lana Del Rey’s masterpieces, celebrates the dark fantasy life that she embraces (whether it be real or fictional). In “Yayo” she sang, “You have to take me right now from this dark trailer park” and “Let me put on a show for you, daddy,” causing eyebrows to raise and anyone with a heart to be a little worried about the life she might lead. Throughout Born to Die (plus Paradise Edition) and Ultraviolence, Lana showed us the “bad” parts of herself and made them beautiful. She confidently tried on many subversive faces and alter egos: the gold digger, the prostitute, the “other woman” of suburbia, the drugged-up poet, the run-down runaway, the fallen angel, the Chateau Marmont ingénue facing time at Riker’s Island for God knows what. She said controversial things like “You’re so fresh to death and sick as cancer” and “F—ed my way up to the top, this is my show” and “my pussy tastes like Pepsi cola” (a delightfully feminist statement, in my humble opinion, that reminds me of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou). She confessed deep desires for “fame, liquor, and love,” for reckless driving, for old men and cheep beer, for players and bad boys; each song was a celebration of her pull towards the insane and absurd.
In my favorite song of all time, “Ride,” she sings “Been trying hard not to get into trouble but I got a war in my mind.” Both the music and lyrics from the first two and a half albums were bursting with the tension of this statement. This struggle was tangible at almost every moment, which is a major part of what made her songs so profoundly resonant to me. In Honeymoon, the renegade narrator is gone. The darkest thing she wants to do in this album is “get high by the beach,” which is not all that ground breaking because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?
Honeymoon as an album sounds like just that: a honeymoon. There’s no tension, no internal war, just a breezy contemplation on new love. The bad girl is gone, and in her place is a newlywed on the way to melancholy domesticity.
Observation #3: Ambition and narratives are watered down
Also missing from this album is ambition. While the instrumentals aspire to do much less than in the previous albums (an obviously intentional artistic choice), I’m more interested in the way the lyrics don’t aspire to tell a story the way they used to. “Blue Jeans” told the story of an instant love and it’s devastating collapse. “Ride” told the story of a tired traveller in search of freedom. The narratives of Honeymoon are sometimes still there, but heavily watered down. While “High By The Beach” tells the story of a woman fed up with a certain relationship, for example, the lyrics are vague and unspecific. The result is that we’re hearing about a generic relationship, instead of one that is uniquely Lana’s.
The narrator too doesn’t seem to have the same level of ambition as she used to. Lana of the past was always seeking something major—a close relationship to God, to be someone’s National Anthem—and if it wasn’t major, she was still seeking it with every inch of her heart. Even when she just wanted to go to Kmart (Lizzy Grant era), you could sense how truly happy the simplicity of this trip would make her. And when she wanted to “just ride,” it was a metaphor for accessing radical freedom in line with the American dream and simultaneously in rebellion of it. Now her aspirations consist of getting high on the beach, listening to music while watching boys, dancing, driving, loving, brooding. There’s nothing wrong with this. I can relate to this. I, too, long for a life of leisure. All I’m saying is that I miss the complex, multi-layered, atmospherically rich songs of yesterLana, I’m sad that she’s sacrificed excitement and I’m throwing a bit of a temper tantrum over it.
Observation #4: As much as Lana still loves men, she doesn’t need them anymore
For long-time fans such as myself, Honeymoon displays a powerful moment of emotional strength and growth . In “Put Me In a Movie,” a Lizzy Grant classic, she sings “Lights, camera, action: if he likes me, takes me home” and “Lights, camera, action: he didn’t know he’d have this much fun” and, finally, “Lights, camera, action: you know I can’t make it on my own.” This song is about trying to win the approval of a record executive, and her feeling that she needs him in order to succeed. In “High by the Beach,” she responds to these lyrics with: “Lights, camera, action: I’ll do it on my own/don’t need your money to get me what I want,” to which I say, HELL YES, LANA. Let this be a message to young and impressionable people everywhere: You can most definitely do whatever it is you want on your own without a man’s help or approval.
Observation #5: Lana Del Rey remains to be one of the greatest artists of our time
I know these observations may have sounded critical, but I do think it is an exquisite album and I intend to listen to it on repeat, exclusively, for the next three to four months. If I was harsh at times it’s only because I worship this woman and want to understand her better. Lana is an angel and a goddess, she’s a badass artist and can write whatever kind of songs she wants; it certainly isn’t her job to keep me constantly starry-eyed and swooning. So, when I say that I’m not yet in love with Honeymoon, please understand that I’m comparing it to two and a half albums that I love more deeply than I love myself. I have full faith that Honeymoon will be a guiding light in my darker times as her previous albums have been, and I will continue to spread the gospel of Lana as far as my voice will carry.