When was it we realized Lana Del Rey was here to stay? It was most definitely long after her painful SNL performance and the litany of even more arduous think pieces written by the post-“Video Games” authenticity police. By the time her full-length debut Born To Die arrived in early 2012, she still had our attention (and burgeoning commercial hype), but its myriad lyrical clunkers and lack of a traditional “hit” left her teetering in the brink of collapsing under the weight of her own mythology. Somewhere between 2014’s lush, guitar-cradled Ultraviolence and the following year’s Soundcloud Nancy Sinatra-spiked Honeymoon, Lana cemented her status — a singular force in the pop game, calling her own shots with few real peers or imitators, owning an inside joke she’s been in on all along.
That being said, Lust For Life is Lana Del Rey’s Most Lana Del Rey Album yet. She revels in the absurdities of her persona, pushing the shtick toward ten out of ten: the classic rock references, the hip-hop affectation, the thinkpiece-bait lyrics, the patience-pushing run time. If you thought Honeymoon was her best album yet, you’re in luck, as the jump from her last LP to this one is the least jarring cross-album transition of her career. The skittering trap beat she test-drove on “High By the Beach” is now a recurring theme, a seedy underbelly to guide along “Cherry,” “Summer Bummer,” “In My Feelings,” and others. Her marriage of past and present has gone from precarious at best to sturdy, bankable, and all but her own: drape an orchestra of sepia-toned nostalgia over an oh-so-2017 heartbeat, and you’ve got Lust For Life at its best.
At 16 tracks and 72 minutes, it’s an awfully long album, but the tedium is limited by the way it’s structured. Tracks cluster around tiny, unassuming suites that allow Lana to jump from scene to scene. It opens with the already-familiar singles “Love” and the Max Martin-assisted Weeknd duet “Lust For Life,” an accessible intro to a sprawling, indulgent album. Both A$AP Rocky collaborations — “Summer Bummer” and “Groupie Love” — appear back-to-back near the record’s midsection, Lana’s first album-proper hip-hop feature made all the more intimate by the JFK to her Jackie O. And stringing together sides C and D of this quadruple-vinyl epic, there’s Lana’s luxurious classic rock duets — the Stevie Nicks-assisted “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems” and the Sean Ono Lennon-featuring Beatles hat tip “Tomorrow Never Came” — followed by a trio of feathery solo ballads to close things out.
Airing the glory of ’60s and ’70s rock standards has long been a staple of the Lana Del Rey persona, and on an album forever indebted to Iggy Pop, she isn’t the least bit bashful about laying it on. Almost every song has some not-so-subtle reference to the Rock Hall canon, from the Beach Boys to Mötley Crüe to “Tiny Dancer” to closing with a Neil Young lyrical interpolation that’s already been interpolated quite well. But these moments aren’t the album’s toughest thematic sells. There’s a present day political weariness that hangs over Lust For Life, particularly in its third quarter, where, amongst other because-Trump laments, she fears for America’s security from the artist lounge of Coachella, a dubious starting point for writing about the perils of the American empire. There’s little reason to doubt it’s coming from an earnest place, but it’s a tough sell alongside lyrics lamenting having to drop a few mil to find a beach to duck paparazzi on, since that’s not such a good look right now.
But as we said, Lana has been in on the joke all along, and on her fourth and most self-assured album of working this coolly calculated persona, we’d be smart to follow along laughing with her, not at her. In a 2017 pop game riddled with thirst, trend-hops and burn-outs, Lana Del Rey has earned a remarkable, singular consistency.