HONEYGLOOM: Lana Del Rey peaks on the minimalist “Honeymoon”

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With subtle noir and lo-fi influences painting her as more of a shoegazing, Ghetto Carpenters rather than the grungey, Ghetto Sinatra she’s often far too lazily dubbed – much like Ultraviolence before it, Honeymoon  sees Lana Del Rey create another sublime ‘vinyl experience’ record; a luxurious and often confronting album that embodies a number of Lana’s favourite topics; life, love, loss, fame, God, mortality, Jazz, Blues, and – of course – the beach. Honeymoon also sees the return of Hollywood Lana, a character she’d slightly forgotten about – and perhaps with good reason – for 2014’s Ultraviolence.

“I have a personal ambition to live my life honestly and honour the true love that I’ve had. I want to stay hopeful, even though I get scared about why we’re even alive at all.”

Jazz and the Blues continue to inspire our heroin-heroine, with both genres on display for a considerable amount in its first half; album opener ‘Honeymoon’ plays as the most delicate introduction to any of Lana’s records, whilst the magical ‘Music To Watch Boys To’ and ‘Terrence Loves You’ (the latter in which Del Rey cleverly croons ‘I lost myself when I lost you. But I’ve still got Jazz when I’ve got those Blues’, as well as making a piercingly great David Bowie reference during its middle-8) are a tiny glimpse into the kind of valium-pop that made her a star, but it’s Hip-hop, arguably Lana’s first musical love, that continues to play an integral part in her artistry, with ‘High By The Beach’ perhaps being the biggest nod to the genre. More Dre than Billie Holiday, Honeymoon’s lead single packs a powerful punch come the chorus, a killer middle-8 and an ethos many of her listeners at home can get behind. Much like its predecessor Ultraviolence, there aren’t many ‘commercially viable’ songs to be heard on ‘Honeymoon’, but when they do pop up it’s a seriously memorable affair. The breathtaking subtlety of something like “Freak” would sit well on radio playlists with its scenic verses, super-dramatic chorus and, for the middle-8, boasting what is possibly the greatest key-change in music for the entire year; and in an ideal world the bass-heavy “Religion” would be a world-wide, Number 1 smash hit purely for the lyric “when I’m down on my knees, you’re how I pray”.

“When you’re an introvert like me and you’ve been lonely for a while, and then you find someone who understands you, you become really attached to them. It’s a real release.” 

Honeymoon sees Del Rey delve a little further into questioning her own existence – and the overall effect fame has had on her. The near-religious experience that is “God Knows I Tried” within the album opening act sees Lana echo the saddest lyric she’s ever penned; ‘I’ve got nothing much to live for, ever since I found my fame’. It’s simultaneously the saddest and most beautifully honest moment Honeymoon has to offer, and shines a light directly into Lana’s raw vulnerability. From an early age, Lana poured her drive and ambition into creating art and finding her audience, so now that she has accomplished both of those dreams, she’s reflective, wondering whether there is anything else to life, and wondering why it is she felt alive searching for her fame, but dead once she’d found it. The silver lining, however – and can you even believe that we are talking about a Lana Del Rey album that has a silver lining – you get the feeling by the end of the song that, although most elements of freedom and privacy have been taken from her, it’s perhaps a small price to pay for fulfilling her dream. But in true Del Rey fashion this is something she never actually confirms, only somewhat alludes to. Towards the end of the record, Lana continues with similar themes on the powerful “Swan Song”, where she threatens to “never sing again”, asking her lover to follow her into freedom. ‘Why work so hard when you could just be free?’ – yet another lyric on Honeymoon that uncovers the extent of Lana’s internal struggle of her life and identity, before and after the fame.

“I’d been sick on tour for about two years with this medical anomaly that doctors couldn’t figure out. That’s a big part of my life. I just feel really sick a lot of the time and can’t figure out why. It’s heavy performing for people who really care about you, and you don’t really care that much about yourself sometimes. I thought it was sad. I thought my position was sad. I thought it was sad to be in Ireland singing for people who really cared when I wasn’t sure if I did.”

At Honeymoon’s half-way mark, Lana recites T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”, almost in an effort to let you know this is roughly were you would be flipping the record over, which is obviously something that is going to do wonders for the overall ‘listener experience’ when the actual vinyl edition is released. There hasn’t been a vinyl-flip transition as wonderfully executed as this on an album since Gaga’s brilliant placement of ‘Speechless’ at the half-way mark on The Fame Monster. And it’s this ‘second side’ of Honeymoon that serves as somewhat of a change in pace to the rest of the record, a change that sticks out as its definitive act.

As this second act builds its momentum, symphonic fan favourite “Salvatore” sees Lana sing about driving in limousines, eating ice-creams and getting herself a very nice tan, all against a Bond-ready musical landscape that makes you wonder how on earth it’s possible she still hasn’t been asked to record a theme for 007. But the pièce de résistance of Honeymoon is the double-hit of “The Blackest Day” followed by “24”, the two most melodic offerings on here. “The Blackest Day” is a six-minute creeper with a devastatingly beautiful chorus (and Honeymoon’s greatest vocal delivery) where you can – quite fittingly and hysterically – replace the lyric “All I hear is Billie Holiday – it’s all that I play” with “All I hear is Lana Del Rey, it’s all that I play”. “24” sees Lana come for the very weave Marina snatched from Madonna earlier this year on FROOT – The Queen of Humming in-Pop weave – and does it with such bewildering results you’ll wonder why Lana hasn’t made an entire album of her just humming along to shoegazey beats yet.

There’s an eerie mystery to the world of Lana Del Rey, a mystery that is perhaps lost on many listeners who jumped on board during her ‘poppier’ era. But Honeymoon’s final act, a totally lo-fi, minimalist cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’, sees Del Rey audaciously ask us not to buy into the mystery, pleading that she’s just a soul whose intentions are good. “Oh lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” If you’re paying attention, the message is far from lost.

“My music is a luxury.”

Honeymoon does a very good job of alienating those who were hoping it would be a kind of rehash of Born To Die. Honeymoon’s pop hooks are at a bare-minimum, but that being said, Honeymoon offers more in the way of pop hooks than Ultraviolence did. As I’ve already mentioned, there’s this moment during the middle-8 for “Freak” where this sweeping, ethereal keychange profoundly changes the tone of the song and makes you acknowledge Del Rey’s pop smarts. There are wonderful moments like this scattered throughout Honeymoon, you just need to have a little patience as you ‘embark on the journey’.

“I don’t believe in the school of hard knocks, although I’ve had them. All that stuff about whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger is so not true. Do you know what makes you stronger? When people treat you and your art with dignity.”

Now more than ever, the woman who dismissed feminism and said she was more interested in SpaceX, Tesla and “what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities” is – lyrically – being a bit more upfront and honest with her audience. To the casual fan, Honeymoon might feel like a regressional step into the somber world of Ultraviolence, but if you listen carefully, you will hear the vast amount of Lana’s artistic growth within the musical walls of Honeymoon. In three years, Lana looks – and sounds – 100% comfortable with what she’s selling.

If you’re looking for immediate, brazen pop satisfaction ala her debut then you’re probably looking into the wrong record. But if you’re looking for subtle, growing pop satisfaction that’s brimming with unexpected hooks, ones that delightfully crash into your ears like waves crashing along the beach, then Honeymoon is more than likely going to run with you as deeply as the oceans Del Rey so lovingly sings about.

‘Honeymoon’ is out now through Interscope/Universal Music via iTunes and JB-HiFi.

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