“I like you a lot, so I do what you want,” she sings at the opening of “Music To Watch Boys To,” the second song on Honeymoon, and one of the highlights. Her voice is wrapped in gauze; she sounds stunned, almost concussed, amid the soft, slow, frosty music -- chiefly strings and woodwinds -- which, on her Instagram, she likened to exotica composer Les Baxter’s early-‘60s work. Then the switch: “I know what only the girls know/Lies can buy eternity,” she declares, docile as a panther, exposing her cold heart. When her lover, to whom she’s pretended to submit, heads for the door, her pulse never even goes up: “I push record and watch you leave.” A honeymoon is wonderful, but it’s also brief.
This cold-hearted equanimity is the mark of a femme fatale. “I never loved you, Walter,” Barbara Stanwyck mutters in the climactic scene of Double Indemnity, moments before Walter murders her. “Not you or anybody else.” In noir, the femme fatale’s death is inevitable, because there’s no way for her to survive an unfair world. Del Rey, who has a death fixation (“I’m scared to die, but I want to die,” she told a reporter last year), understands this.
On her previous album, the fantastic Ultraviolence, producer Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys disrupted her songs with spikes of tremolo guitar. Honeymoon erases most of Del Rey’s modern influences -- Born to Die drew on hip-hop -- to better display her sepulchral voice and highly-stylized phrasing, in which the melisma is so arbitrary, it almost seems determined by throws of the I Ching. Her lyrics this time are less detailed and quotable, and there’s a continuing determination to answer and tease critics, from the album-opening lyric “We both know it’s not fashionable to love me” (Del Rey drags out the nine words for about 12 seconds) to the album-closing cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Okay. We get the point.
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And because she (justifiably) feels misunderstood, she’s begun giving the world a peak at the grift she’s been running, in the hope that people will stop underestimating her. There’s plenty of sadness on Honeymoon, but there’s also rage, violence, madness, bitterness, and comedy (the proper response to “Salvatore” -- where she coos in Italian like a schoolgirl who just saw La Dolce Vita for the first time and sings “Catch me if you can, working on my tan” -- is delighted laughter), even though it’s hidden in music so low-affect, it makes Mazzy Star sound like Stock Aitken Waterman. Under the cover of midnight, Del Rey has been exploring big ideas about eroticism, drugs, myth, the empty promise of YOLO, what it means to be a woman, and the American soul. But sure, keep writing her off as “sad.”
Lana Del Rey - Honeymoon Album Review