Lilian Min
September 21, 2015 5:35 am

Toward the end of new album Honeymoon, the music behind Del Rey’s straining voice swells as she invokes the line “I’m on my own again.” It’s the closing strain of “The Blackest Day,” a song that takes her sound into the realm of — could it be? — independent ecstasy, and perhaps the easiest/simplest description summing up the record as a whole. Though the album’s title signals commitment, Honeymoon is Del Rey’s untethered final form, the pouty-lipped newcomer from Born to Die walking down the stairs at prom, making people do a double-take, and flipping her hair as if to show that she always knew this would be her place in the world.

It’s impossible to talk about the songs on Honeymoon as removed from her first two efforts. Sonically, it veers more toward Born to Die than the haze rock-heavy Ultraviolence, but lyrically, it adopts the cheekier and wearier worldview of the latter. Born to Die was interested in telling intricate but similar stories and world-building (see: “Off to the Races”); Ultraviolence, though no less complicated in its construction, was a gamble on her established sound and image, bringing in lush guitars and thrumming bass to help ground both her grit (“Cruel World”) and airiness (“Shades of Cool”).

On Honeymoon, Del Rey toes the line between the stereotype she helped create (that of the image-obsessed, tragic romantic) and the pragmatic innovator whose lack of recognizable, core personality allows her to occupy the space of fantasy. “High By The Beach,” the album’s lead single and quite possibly the funniest song Del Rey’s ever released, courts the male gaze and then explodes it; she’d literally rather be doing nothing than spending time with the ubiquitous him. Then on songs like “Honeymoon,” “Religion,” and “Terrence Loves You” (her personal favorite track on the album), she’s back in the “I need your love” court, but there’s now real depth to her pining, as well as grounded stakes: Instead of variations on “If you don’t love me, I’ll die,” it’s “Well I lost myself when I lost you / but I still got jazz when I’ve got the blues.” (She’s clearly moved on from rocker bad boys to jazz bad boys, signaled by “Terrence” and then with her thoroughly Lana-fied, album-closing cover of Nina Simone’s iconic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”)

In keeping with her ambiguously “authentic” aural imagery, Del Rey actively curates a “Spanish” vibe in songs like “Salvatore” and “24” (with castanets!), which sound like reworked old-school film soundtracks (much like how “Old Money” off of Ultraviolence was an almost pitch perfect rip of the love theme from the 1986 version of Romeo and Juliet). Those moody vibes are channeled in songs like “Music To Watch Boys To” and “Art Deco,” and the effect is more cinematic than scintillating.

Where Del Rey succeeds the most though, and always has, is in prodding the darker, more twisted parts of human nature. In particular, “Freak” and “The Blackest Day” provide some of the most cathartic melody lines; the background synth slide in “Freak’s” chorus is one of the most hair-raising sounds from any record this year. Then on “The Blackest Day,” Del Rey descends into despair as her voice grinds into her lowest register. The effect is spectacular; the ex-lover’s guide to Dante’s Inferno.

For those of us who were charmed and intrigued by Del Rey’s earlier work, Honeymoon is her clearest, truest commitment to the persona she’s been workshopping ever since she decided she wanted to be a star. For the most part, it really, really, works; not all pop music has to be positivity and sparkles and sunshine, and Del Rey continues to pave her own, drifting way.

Listen to the album below:

Related reading:

Lana Del Rey’s first full song from ‘Honeymoon’ is here and we’re feeling it, big time

Lana Del Rey gets her action heroine on for the ‘High By The Beach’ video

Image via Instagram.

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