Has Lana Del Rey finally become a self-consuming parody of herself? If last year's ‘Ultraviolence’ coloured the singer as a disturbingly death-obsessed femme fatale, then ‘Honeymoon’ sees her falling further into a cinematic noir nightmare. Gone is the gritty authenticity of West Coast guitars in favour of swooning orchestral strings, like the soundtrack to her own 50s biopic drenched in monochrome. Vocally, too, she breathlessly sighs over the silken production, like a despondent Marilyn Monroe consumed by melancholy.
It’s in the lyrics, though, that ‘Honeymoon’ occasionally borders on the absurd. “I still got jazz when I got the blues”, she sings on Terrence Loves You, before quoting David Bowie’s Space Oddity (“ground control to Major Tom”). And that’s far from the only reference: “Put on that Hotel California” (God Knows I Tried); “All I hear is Billie Holiday” (The Blackest Day); the reciting of a T.S Eliot poem in interlude Burnt Norton; covering Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood in an attempt to align herself with the great singer. From here things only get weirder, reaching a peak with Salvatore that slowly descends into a repeated burble of “ahhh soft ice cream”. There’s no denying that Del Rey frequently indulges in pretentiousness as much as she revels in the luxurious production.
You get the sense, though, that she’s equally self-knowing. After all, the album as a whole opens with the lyric “We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me” on the lavishly introductory title track, whilst on Freak she invites us alluringly to “be a freak like [her], too”. Buy into her cinematic world and it’s all too easy to fall for her charm. Indeed, you can take ‘Honeymoon’ as a concept album for the femme fatale character trope, seducing you towards a post-wedding vacation that you may not ever see. As she self-references on Art Deco, “Club queen on the downtown scene prowling around at night”. Del Rey is playing a character and it’s up to you if you take her seriously.
Musically, ‘Honeymoon’ sees her in typically brooding territory, even if the downbeat mood is a little too consistent across its overly long fourteen tracks. Violins and vocals intertwine beautifully, underpinned by light hip-hop beats. There’s a grace and timelessness to her sound that haunts as much as it seduces – like her siren character it’s disturbing, sexy, and fatal. Vocally, too, she’s capable of delivering depth of emotion; throughout the album she mourns and laments as much as she knowingly coos.
And if Del Rey is herself haunted by the legacy of breakthrough hit Video Games, she’s still capable of some sublime moments of retro pop. Lead single High By The Beach is the track most obviously courting mainstream tastes with its heavy trap rhythms, but Music To Watch Boys To sets the tone of the album early on with its downwardly spiralling chorus melodies suggesting lustful inevitability accompanied by ghostly flutes. Terrence Loves You is a genuinely devastating ballad that subverts the clichéd saxophone of so many noir scores. The nagging chromaticism of Freak and its swirling synths are deliciously dangerous. And in Swan Song icy synths reflect the album's air of mystery, in what could easily be a future Bond theme.
In fact, in many ways ‘Honeymoon’ sounds like Del Rey’s bid to sing for the British spy. But it’s more than that. It’s the ode to faded noir glamour that she’s always been striving for. Far from becoming a parody, she’s reached her pinnacle, creating a complete cinematic sound world. Listen if you dare.
* Music To Watch Boys To
* Swan Song
Listen: ‘Honeymoon’ is available now.