Lana Del Rey Gets Personal & Political on Lust for Life
By: Steve Hladik
"Is it the end of an era? Is it the end of America?" Lana Del Rey asks us halfway through her fourth studio album Lust for Life. The track, entitled "When the World Was at War We Kept on Dancing" contains a great deal of the anxiety that permeates throughout the entire album. Themes like anxiety, along with fear and despair are not themes that Del Rey hasn't explored before, but they were often wrapped up in glamorous imagery, defense mechanisms that were masqueraded as money, fame, cars and beaches.
Lust for Life doesn't abandon these elements but rather gets to the heart of them. The white mustangs and 13 beaches that Del Rey croons about here don't hold the same allure as they did in her previous outings. It feels, to me anyway, that Lana has a mission here outside of her usual deep dives into her pained psyche. Whatever said mission is, it certainly feels bigger then her. It might just be as vast and complicated as the America she so often sings about and tackles headfirst not just in "When the World...", but the entire album.
But for those pining for the Lana Del Rey who declared she "believed in the country America used to be" in her "Ride" music video, she appears to be long gone. In recent interviews, Del Rey discussed her decision to abandon celebrating Americana culture in her music and performances, citing she doesn't feel as safe as she did when Obama was President and the ways our current President has been using his power in office to oppress women. Bold statements coming not only from a mainstream music artist, but one who has built a great deal of her career and music reminiscing and romanticizing the America that was once apparently so Great. It's almost like Lust for Life has to be a start from scratch for Lana, and the results are thrilling, a trip through the past, a wrestle with the present, and a glimpse at the future.
Perhaps one of the reasons Lust for Life feels like a bit of a departure from Del Rey's previous works is not just the ditching of Americana imagery, but it's also the longest album Del Rey has made. It's 16 tracks, and towards the end most of the songs run close to 6 minutes. This allows for Del Rey to open up more, sonically and personally, and to broaden her reach.
This is her first album that features duets with other artists, which include the eclectic group of Stevie Nicks, Sean Lennon, and A$AP Rocky. The genres she samples are everything from hip hop, 60's doo-wop, and folk. When she finally gets to addressing the home of the brave, she hits on topics such as the tensions between America and North Korea ("Woodstock - Coachella In My Mind") and instead of saluting the flag, she salutes all the amazing women that make up our country ("God Bless America - And All The Beautiful Women In It.") To say Lust for Life is Lana's "Trump album" is pointless and reductive.
Del Rey's sights are set further then just the White House. Despite knowing the results of the election and the current administration influenced her new album and direction as an artist, it trivializes the catharsis and personal breakthrough that Del Rey has been hinting at since her first record. That catharsis comes in the final two tracks of the album "Change" and "Get Free" where Del Rey takes all of that insight she's gained over the course of the album, investigating and pondering other things (bad relationships, drugs, and Charles Manson are just some of the other topics Lana touches on throughout the album) and turns it on herself. "Change is a powerful thing, I feel it coming in me" and "I wanna move out of the black and into the blue" are two of the statements she makes in these final two tracks. Powerful, life-affirming stuff.
But for me, what really showed me that Lana has come out on the other end of Lust for Life a changed woman was actually an echo to an older lyric that was slyly referenced in "Get Free." Lana says "Sometimes I feel like I got a war in my mind" on the track, which is a line she also uses on the aforementioned "Ride" where she says "Been trying hard not to get into trouble/ but I got a war in my mind." In "Ride", it's a roar, a declaration of independence, but also a warning sign. Don't get too close to this Lana, she's wrestling with some deep, troubling stuff, stuff she may have even caused herself. That Lana is hitting the road to escape her troubled life, setting her sights on open roads and outlaws of the American Midwest. On Lust for Life, Lana has come out on the other side from her trip through the American heartland, through her sorrow, her fury, her darkest, deepest desires. The Lana Del Rey of "Ride" is running from her demons, but the Lana Del Rey on Lust for Life, she's exercising them, honoring them, maybe even putting them to bed.