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Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024
The Observer

Lana Del Rey's Noir ‘Honeymoon’

Eric Richelsen | The Observer

“Honeymoon,” Lana Del Rey’s third major-label album, closes with a cover of the Nina Simone classic “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood.” It’s a sentiment that seems a few years too late — since “Video Games” surfaced online four years ago, Del Rey, no matter how good her intentions, has been constantly misunderstood. Her critics have been very vocal in bringing claims against her: her image manufactured, her voice boring, her lyrics repetitive, her ideology anti-feminist.

Instead of altering course, Del Rey has only retreated further into the richly-rendered universe she’s built in her music. Entering into her world is somewhat like stepping into Norma Desmond’s mansion in “Sunset Boulevard”: a glamorous Old Hollywood fantasy divorced from reality. Like Dylan and Springsteen before her, Del Rey is fascinated with American iconography, frequently walking the line between kitsch and glamour. Symbols that repeat across her discography are littered throughout the lyrics on this album: jazz music, cigarettes, neon signs, guns, long stretches of highway.

On “Honeymoon,” she employs this imagery to evoke her persona’s complex relationship to romance and fame. It’s an album of California noir in the vein of films like “Chinatown” and “Inherent Vice” that explores the dark, twisted underbelly lurking under the bright, flashy facade of Hollywood. There she is on the cover, leaning against a celebrity sightseeing bus and staring off into the distance through cat eye sunglasses. This idyllic Southern California image is too good to be true, of course; as she sings on “God Knows I Tried,” “I’ve got nothing much to live for / Ever since I found my fame,” and that sense of melancholy pervades throughout the album.

Del Rey's only real radio hit was Cedric Gervais’ house remix of “Summertime Sadness” and ever since she’s been committed to making music that resists being co-opted into the EDM world. She promised this album would harken back to the uptempo trip-hop of “Born to Die,” and a few of the tracks — most notably, “High By the Beach,” which sounds like an underwater cover of Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop,” and the evocative “Freak” — are underpinned by trap drums.

Mostly, though, “Honeymoon” delves deeper into the lush, woozy palette she established on the psych-rock-leaning “Ultraviolence.” The title track introduces this languid pace, its cinematic strings swelling at a glacial pace and Del Rey elongating every syllable, and it continues throughout the rest of the record. True to her obsession with Hollywood, many of the songs sound inspired by film scores. The beautifully sparse “Terrence Loves You” borrows the melody from Nancy Sinatra’s Bond theme “You Only Live Twice,” while also interpolating lyrics from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and adding a muted horn section. “Salvatore” evokes the Sicilian scenes from “The Godfather,” as Del Rey sings of a summer romance with an Italian man.

The album’s climax arrives with the six-minute-long “The Blackest Day,” a ballad on which she mourns a breakup by listening to Billie Holiday. “Getting darker and darker / Looking for love,” she croons, “In all the wrong places / Oh my god.”  It’s perhaps the bleakest moment on “Honeymoon,” the summation of all of the narrator’s destructive relationships. Yet, by the track’s end, she sings, “I’m on my own again” — still melancholic, but perhaps ready to consider a new approach to love.

Even if “Honeymoon” never reaches the dizzying heights of “Ultraviolence,” it is perhaps the best execution of Del Rey’s artistic vision to date. On the album’s interlude, she reads the T.S. Eliot poem “Burnt Norton” over an ambient soundscape. “What might have been and what has been,” she recites, “point to one end, which is always present.” Even as she references the past — Simone, Dylan, Holiday, Sinatra, Bowie — she directs it toward one end, creating a gorgeous, coherent work that is entirely her own.

4/5 stars

If you like: Bob Dylan, Nancy Sinatra, Leonard Cohen

Tracks: "Music To Watch Boys To," "Terrence Loves You," "The Blackest Day,"