Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon album: A track-by-track first listen review

18 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Fade In: The Cinematic Grandeur of Lana Del Rey’s ‘Honeymoon’.

By the fourth film, you generally know whether you like a director’s work or not. Earlier this year, Lana Del Rey said that her third album ‘Honeymoon’ would be “very different” to her previous release, 2014’s underselling ‘Ultraviolence’.

The fruition of Honeymoon smacks of strict creative control: there was minimal press – one notable interview with friend/superfan James Franco – the album’s public playback took place at Urban Outfitters, and the production team was confined to Del Rey herself, long-time engineer Kieron Menzies and Ultraviolence/Born to Die producer Rick Nowels.Lana Del Rey’s got the blues. “Got my blue nail polish on/ It’s my favourite colour and my favourite tone of song” the New Yorker croons on The Blackest Day.

You could say he sees himself as he is today, dressed in a silky long-sleeve loungewear top with a scarf circling his neck, like right out of the Hollywood handbook for dapper flamboyants. That album had seen the ‘Video Games’ singer work with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach to strip away the more modern elements of 2012 debut ‘Born To Die’ in favour of a vintage, smoky feel. Or as what he has most recently become, a television-land megastar, for how convincingly he plays super-badass hip-hop-record mogul Lucious Lyon on Fox’s Empire, this year’s most unexpected hit show. The constant was the character that Del Rey – real name Lizzie Grant – has fostered: a brooding femme fatale, a stray extra from a Tim Burton film, the sultry face of sadness. Or maybe he feels a little disturbed by her unflinching embodiment of this specific strain of his fictional characters: almost as if he’s being stalked by his own creation – which is, of course, a very Lynchian notion.

She doubles down on her talents as a brilliant melodist and singer, making a lush, widescreen album that returns to her familiar obsessions while inviting us into new ones — shedding some skin in the process. Or even as certain others see him, including some ex-wives, as a man given to outbursts of stunning violence and domestic abuse, allegations of which are, in part, what led him to take the Empire role in the first place. “Since they see me as a bad guy,” he says his thinking went, “I’m gonna play a bad guy.” “Today, for me, has been about searching out who I am,” he says. “We’ve got all these different faces that want to come out — there’s at least four just in this moment, with a possible expansion to 432 — but which one do you let out?

Familiar themes feature: Hollywood legends haunt Terrence Loves You while morality troubles God Knows I Tried (“I’ve got nothing much to live for / Ever since I found my fame”), and she still fraternises with dodgy men, but instead of bonking bikers against pinball machines, she’s now skulking around with the mafia. It is an album of sighs and whispers, vocals subtly layered until multiple voices blend into one soft croon, melodies lazily unwinding like a narcoleptic dream amid decaying synths, lonely echoing guitar lines, strings shimmering in a heat haze and drum patterns so restrained that they are almost embarrassed to draw attention to themselves. It’s the album on which she can widen her world or typecast herself for good, but the words “very different” were an exaggeration – bad boys, sadness, mortality and the myth of California are still on the menu, even if its crisp beats snap the album back to 2015. With a little chopped-and-screwed modernity, hints of jazz and Morricone-like soundscapes, there’s a timelessness to Honeymoon, and an intrigue that should linger longer than her previous LPs.

Not only does her vocal delivery remain the same throughout, but also its protagonist’s “voice”; while the emotional impact of what might sometimes be traumatic developments seems somehow damped, as if experienced through a narcotised haze. While her peers try to mix up a new cocktail with the same ingredients (Madonna, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey), Lana ignores trends. “Honeymoon” borrows from the past, but it lifts from stranger sources — Nancy Sinatra and Mazzy Star, film noir and pop culture. Honeymoon, as the title suggests, mostly concerns a new relationship in its most idealized phase, when the perfect other feels enchanted and can do no wrong. The grainy video for the title track has the singer reclining on a bank by a freeway, battered paperback in hand; the song has sounds like the theme for a desolate Bond film directed by Lars Von Trier.

She released one gorgeous home-made video clip in 2011 and the world fell in love with her 21st-century take on the Femme Fatale, before trolls rounded on her, misogynistically attacking her looks and denouncing her particular brand of artifice as hypocritical, as if modern pop was some kind of bastion of gritty authenticity. She mentions “Rapper’s Delight” while whispering vocals over a dance beat drowning in cough syrup on “Art Deco.” She calls out to Major Tom on “Terrence Loves You,” but the track’s saxophone line hues closer to Sade (drizzled in cough syrup — the album entices with the slow, odd pleasure of a codeine high). In his head, he’s now six years old, standing in front of a different mirror, in Cleveland, in the ghetto, just a little light-skinned black kid with his daddy, Tyrone, right next to him.

She retreated, wounded and embattled, but each new release confirms her status as a genuinely original performer who treats her career as a kind of living art installation. It lends a sort of Stepford devotion to the more earnestly romantic songs, like “Religion” and “Music To Watch Boys By”, while prickles of danger are raised by the darker emotions: all it takes, in the separation ode “The Blackest Day”, is an offhand mention of a gun to spark the suspicion that, despite the bland delivery, this is an obsession teetering on the edge of either suicide or homicide. The budding relationship in Honeymoon is unlike Lana’s previous fictional relationships, in which there was always an obvious power balance tilted against her heroines in favor of their men.

Out of Bond mode, the mood is languid and tortured, the pace slow and intense even when underpinned by trap hip hop influenced beats as on ‘High By The Beach’. But when, in “24”, she complains, “You’re hard to reach/You’re cold to touch”, it’s hard not to think of pot and kettle locked in a mutually unfeeling embrace. She closes the affair with a cover of Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Obviously obtuse, hauntingly beautiful and a perfect end to Rey’s best release yet. Italian director Federico Fellini’s fourth movie was La Strada, starring Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina, a young woman who is sold into a circus life and controlled by the domineering strongman Zampanò (Anthony Quinn). Although co-written and produced with long-time collaborator Rick Nowels, you can barely sense the presence of another person in these ballads of bad love, doomed affairs with cruel men and even more doomed attempts at escape.

Del Rey once styled herself the Gangsta Nancy Sinatra, but here she has descended into a mirrorworld madness that suggests an Instagram Norma Desmond, rattling around her Hollywood mansion, posting selfies to prove she is still ready for her close-up. As the sleeve image – of Del Rey, leaning from a convertible advertising Starline Tours of celebrities’ homes – confirms, Honeymoon is a very Hollywood album, oozing Californian entropy. You love him, because the only person that’s gonna be there no matter what happens in your life is that little motherfucker.” Howard has never forgotten those words, and they’ve helped him through some pretty desperate moments. If you took it all too literally, you might fear for Del Rey’s emotional and mental health, but there is enough artifice to show that she remains very much in control. At one time, he was going to be a big movie star, having built his reputation on films like Crash (2005) and Hustle & Flow (2005) and his bank account with movies like Iron Man (2008), for which he was paid $3.5 million, more than any other member of the cast, including star Robert Downey Jr.

It’s a disillusioned rejoinder to the burning urge for fame that stains youth culture in the 21st century, and as such, fits in perfectly with the album’s overall sense of exquisite decay. After the endless purgatory of Gelsomina-esque destructive relationships she detailed in her previous work, she now knows when to walk away and move on to the next one. He soon found himself reduced to $40,000 a movie. “When all that stuff went down about me, you’re not in any bargaining position,” he says. “You’re shunned. The only chink in the album’s smooth, shiny carapace of luxurious emotional imperviousness comes in “Salvatore”, where the sleek strings are underscored by a subtle Latin shuffle, while Del Rey adds the slimmest wafer of humour to the romantic chorus, “Matadoré/Limousine/Ciao amore/Soft ice cream”, as she licks her melting gelato in the front seat of a shiny convertible, en route to Mulholland Drive.

Too many Honeymoon songs unwind on a relentlessly downbeat trajectory, in the same tempo and the same key, drifting by in a mood of anaesthetised ennui. Lana has such a deep back catalogue filled with dense lyrical relations that it’s spawned Lanaology — a field like Dylanology or Springsteenology that maps a universal theory of an artist’s lyrics, treating it like one long, sprawling novel. He wrote forward and backward, with both his right and left hands, sometimes using symbols he made up that look foreign, if not alien, to keep his ideas secret until they could be patented. They bear a similarity to building blocks but the shapes are infinitely more complex, in two dimensions and three, tied together by copper wire or held in place by magnets. And her apathy does tend towards lethargy — individual songs seep long past their most pungent moments, and her unwavering vocal approach can induce somnolence.

Some of the objects are as small as mice, others as big as fire hydrants; some are hanging, some free-standing, a few larger ones lit from the inside with LED twinkle stars. Del Rey reads during an interlude, all the songs were written by her with Rick Nowels (Lykke Li, Belinda Carlisle), and the album was produced by them along with Kieron Menzies.

He loves them just as much as he loves himself and his infant son, Qirin, who is sleeping nearby and will one day inherit U.S. patent 20150079872 A1 (“Systems and methods for enhanced building-block applications”), among others. The Los Angeles street-cruising imagery of Honeymoon — from the title song and album cover image of Lana on a StarLine tour bus — are instructional: You listen to this album while you drive (or get driven) around aimlessly all night in search of kicks. Taking a seat not far from Qirin, he says, “Anything you do against yourself is an attack against the people you care about.” (Later on, he will admit to “sneaking a cigarette here and there.”) Pak is here, too, tending to the child. Honeymoon’s strings-heavy instrumental arrangements1 directly recall Nelson Riddle’s work on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours — the original concept album about introspective loneliness.

Drum machines fraternize with snatches of jazz flute, horn sections, and celestial strings — “blurring the lines between real and the fake” just like Lana campaign-promised us in “National Anthem.” Lana always wears her influences on her liner notes. Her acceptance of her absurd condition is there, vividly, in the incisive “Freak,” about life and love under the magnifying glass, which has a woozily seductive chorus: In the video for “High by the Beach,” Ms.

There’s nothing worse than being a broke movie star.” “The suburbs,” Howard says, “as soon as they free up my money.” He goes on, “It’s always been a hard road for me. The result is something like a dog that, when its leash is tugged, simply lies on the ground and shuts its eyes: basking in the sun, feeding off its warmth, never giving an inch. The album’s pinnacle is “Salvatore” — a La Dolce Vita dreamscape about an Italian vacation that may or may not have something to do with Lana’s most recent beau, Italian fashion photographer Francesco Carrozzini, and their paparazzi-documented trip to Portofino, Italy, for the wedding of a Monaco royal. The lyrics are scant and repeated — “cacciatore,” “limousines,” “ciao, amore,” “soft ice cream.” Its artistic lineage is connected to ABBA’s “Fernando.” You can easily picture a very clean-cut group singing a fast version of this at Eurovision and winning.

Beneath the bucolic façade of the vacation, with its picture-postcard vistas of glimmering cities and romantic clichés, “Salvatore” is really a call into the void for an uncertain love after the initial seduction. All of this, in varying degrees, from the moment he first got noticed in 1999’s The Best Man, after having already spent nearly a dec-ade breaking into Hollywood. In brief, as an actor, he’s a lulu — and not difficult at all, if you ask him. “Well,” he says, “I was difficult, but only because I would not conform. Then the movie comes out, I get all these accolades, and now the producers are like, ‘Oh, you made the movie.’ But now they’ve set it up that Terrence is difficult, and so that has followed me.” When show creator Lee Daniels first started casting Empire, he had Wesley Snipes in mind for Lucious.

Because Lucious has a very base understanding of life — kill or be killed — I keep him down at a very low frequency.” It’s all about money, sex, power and, of course, family. It was one of network television’s top-five scripted shows last season, starting off its 12-episode run with 10 million viewers and finishing up with 21 million.

As for Howard’s success as Lucious, he’s playing it cool. “I’m just trying to pay my bills,” he says. “I’m looking forward to this show running its course. If I make a decent amount of money from it, I’ll retire.” He seems to be wanting a simpler life, the kind you find in Winnetka, one free of the temptations of Hollywood. “The problem with this business,” he says, “you lose yourself.” Another problem Howard has is his temper. He’s said to have knocked at least two of his women around, most recently ex-wife Michelle Ghent, who after a 2013 trip to Costa Rica with Howard was photographed with a black eye. That time in 2001 when he was arrested for slugging his first wife (who he married in 1989, divorced in 2003 remarried in 2005, and divorced again in 2007), which led to a guilty plea for disorderly conduct?

One of the oddest things is how the 2005 restaurant incident echoes what happened with his father, Tyrone, then a 21-year-old unemployed laborer, at that Cleveland department store in 1971. The crime made national news and became known as the “Santa Line Slaying.” “I was standing next to my father, watching,” Howard says. “Then stuff happened so quickly — blood was on the coats, on our jackets — and then my dad’s on a table and then my dad is gone to prison.” Leaning into the softness of the sofa, he continues, “My daddy taught me, ‘Never take the vertebrae out of your back or the bass out of your throat. Everything is just frequencies.” He picks up one of his intricate plastic what-is-its and holds it to his eyes. “Like with these things,” he says. “In those four years where I was shunned and walked away from everything, look at what I’ve created. Tesla!” He shakes his head at the miracle of it all, his eyes opening wide, a smile beginning to trace itself, like he’s expecting applause or an award. And that he is about to change the world. “This is the last century that our children will ever have been taught that one times one is one,” he says. “They won’t have to grow up in ignorance.

He marched up to the table and said to the man, “I don’t know if she’s your wife or girlfriend, but she’s absolutely stunning.” She said, “That’s very bold of you.” He said, “Well, only a tiger can approach a tiger.” Three weeks later, they were married. “Isn’t that crazy?” she says today. “And we have an amazing connection. Never, never. “And then every minute that he has free, it’s to do this.” She gestures at some of Howard’s thingamajigs, tilting her head questioningly. “I help him, cutting, drawing and putting things together. In their ghetto Cleveland neighborhood, Tyrone Howard was known as No Nation, for his mixed-race look, and Terrence was called High Yellow, for the color of his skin. Raised to turn the other cheek, he would not fight back, until an uncle saw him get a severe beat-down at the age of 13 and taught him how to box, Rocky-style.

He says he cut the wires off his dad’s electric razor, attached one end to the fuse box in the basement and pressed the other to his skin. “I did that every day for five months and then I felt the slightest little twitch inside,” he says. He had a job at Pan Am as a reservation agent, which allowed him to fly to L.A. for auditions on the cheap, where he could hand out a résumé that was full of sham acting distinctions. By and large, it’s been a trip out of poverty that seems pretty outlandish, but whether it’s apocryphal or just the way he explains himself to himself or all true, it’s exactly how he says it happened, for better or for worse. But Howard says he told them he’d take a $1 million pay cut if they auditioned Downey and hired him. (Marvel Studios disputes Howard’s version of Downey’s hiring and the alleged salary cut, saying Howard played no part in getting Downey the job.) “Robert was so thankful and dadadadada,” says Howard.

Come time to make Iron Man 2, however, the producers went to Howard’s agent, told him they were cutting Howard’s part down and wanted a salary reduction. He got the whole franchise, so I’ve actually given him $100 million, which ends up being a $100 million loss for me from me trying to look after somebody, but, you know, to this day I would do the same thing. It’s just my nature.” Then again, it’s also in his nature to say things like, “I don’t talk about my ex-wife because I don’t talk about negative things,” and later on to call out to Pak, “Hey, honey, where’s the blackmail CD?” Pak rummages around and comes up with it.

It starts off with her calling him “a fucking twat.” She then goes on a rampage, threatening to sell tabloids some “fucking shitty tapes” of him having phone sex and dancing naked if he doesn’t give her the money she says she is due and barking, “You’re a fucking sociopath. I’m so sick of the shit that you’ve put me through.” It goes on for almost 13 endless, weird, brain-frying minutes, with Howard keeping his cool throughout, both on the recording and in the present moment. It’s what has allowed Howard to go to court and ask that their 2012 divorce settlement — it gives Ghent a big part of his Empire salary — be dismissed, which in mid-August a judge will do, finding that Howard was “coerced” into the settlement. Shut the fuck up!” (Ghent’s lawyers declined comment; however, a press release following the decision called the court’s process “skewed” and said their client “is currently evaluating her legal options.”) Afterward, Howard sets himself down on the sofa and looks like he’s gulping for air.

He once said about himself, “The sooner people declare me insane, the sooner I’ll be free.” So has he ever been to a shrink? “Back in the Nineties or something. In the past year, Tove Lo’s hit “Talking Body” found her singing, “We fuck for life,” Big Sean got on the radio with “I Don’t Fuck With You” and Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop,” in which he raps about purchasing a blanket with the sole intention of ejaculating on it, continues to get airplay. Ultimately, the Record Industry Association of America convinced labels to affix potentially offensive albums with the warning stickers the world has grown to love: “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics.” At the time, record-stickering became such a talking point that the Senate’s Committee on Commerce held a hearing on the “Contents of Music and the Lyrics of Records,” at which Frank Zappa, John Denver and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider testified. Many of the artists, including Judas Priest, W.A.S.P., Vanity, Mary Jane Girls and Black Sabbath, were eager to offer their thoughts on what it all means now.

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