The move was as unexpected as much as it made complete sense. Known as one of music’s most enigmatic stars, her penchant for hexing was unsurprising. Dipping her toe into American politics, however? A far greater shock.
Up until the now-infamous (and since deleted) tweet, Del Rey’s politics were shrouded in as much mystery as she is. If anything, her career thus far was built on tantalising narratives casting America in its most golden light: Gatsby-style soirées, cuddling up to the American flag, kissing hard in the pouring rain. To some, rejecting the newly inaugurated President cast doubt on her intense affinity with the country she’d carved her brand out of.
Her 2017 and 2019 LPs, Lust For Life and Normal Fucking Rockwell, dove slightly deeper into her political leanings. Existential musings like ‘Coachella’ and ‘The Greatest’ asked heavy questions about the future of the world we’re living in and the leaders behind the wheel. The modern-day Del Rey arrived.
Before then came Honeymoon, the 35-year-old’s third full-length record and a send-off to her political apathy. All searing strings and grandiose melodrama, Honeymoon was, and remains to this day, Del Rey’s most ostentatious offering.
In context, this is by no means a negative. The production swelters throughout, to the point of seeing the refraction waves in the heat around you. The political discourse is non-existent though; this album is all luxurious jazz, swathes of brooding orchestration and passionate desire.
Honeymoon is, much like the rest of Del Rey’s discography, a production. Though perhaps for the first time, the listener is welcomed not solely as a passive audience member listening to the cinematic tales of our protagonist, but as participants. The album is still laden with Del Rey-isms: talk of “vengeance”; “Miami”; and “lights, camera, acción”; but there are highlights of unabashed emotional sincerity too that keep the album a little more grounded. These moments are welcome, ensuring that the film reel filter doesn’t detract too much from the music.
One standout, ‘The Blackest Day’, Del Rey almost collapses under the weight of her own words: “It’s not one of those phases I’m going through, or just a song / it’s now or nothing / I’m on my own, on my own / on my own again.” The slow-burning ‘Religion’, complete with signature, yearnful cooing is another semi-relatable highlight: “Cause you’re my religion / you’re how I’m living/ When all my friends say I should take some space.” She admits: “I need your love.”
The tracks that bask in summer haze sometimes succeed on that alone. ‘Salvatore’ is an immediate teleportation to a remote cobblestone town nestled in southern Italy. It is often lyrically nonsensical (“Salvatore can wait / Now it’s time to eat / Soft ice cream”), yet still overwhelmingly charming. ‘Freak’ and its sister act ‘Art Deco’ swoon and sway in the heat, the sultriness almost dizzying. ‘High By The Beach’, the album’s lead single, is a somewhat sinister number. Organ keys hum under a trip-pop beat, as Del Rey sings: “We won’t survive / we’re sinking into the sea.” It’s a scorcher regardless, like stepping barefoot onto sands in the height of summer.
A handful of the tracks do fit too comfortably among Del Rey’s more conceptually absurd. ‘God Knows I Tried’ edges towards framing the singer as a scorned woman clambering about the corridors of her secluded castle turret: “Dance around like I’m insane / I feel free when I see no one/ And nobody knows my name.” ‘24’ harbours all of the drama and glamour of a Bond song, but it lacks substance. Her cover of Nina Simone’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is fine, but holds no gravity compared to the rest of the album.
If there’s an art Del Rey mastered from the get-go, it’s cohesion. Sonically, from start to finish, Honeymoon is the personification of those torrid peak weeks of summer. Thematically, it slots in nicely somewhere between her early works. Tales of toxic relationships gone inevitably awry and odes to the men who stick around are stacked alongside one another. It’s a complete body of work with clear direction and purpose.
More than anything, the album marks a crossover point. The Lana that came before Honeymoon was driving in cars with boys and floating in a red dress in the pale moonlight. The Lana that arrived post-Honeymoon still does all of those things, but with a little more political nuance and slight social commentary.
As the world burns around her more ferociously than ever, she is now taking notice. Honeymoon is a glorious ride, but her later works add another, now indispensable dimension.
Lights, camera, acción: the modern day Del Rey has taken centre stage.
Written by Marcus Wratten
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