For an artist like Lana Del Rey, Honeymoon is a relatively low-key release. Following the hype of last years’ Ultraviolence with it’s big-name producer in Dan Auerbach, controversial interviews and questionable song titles bound to draw some media attention, it was the obvious successor to Born To Die. It was also an awful record. Lana’s musical ability finally caught up with her image. Because whatever you say about Lana Del Rey, her image and the kind of venom she stirs in her detractors is interesting. She’s constantly being presented as a fake, industry-cooked, bad-boy obsessed sad girl. But then again, isn’t The Weeknd and Drake the exact same thing, if you care to swap genders? But that’s another conversation. Honeymoon has landed without the press-storm of previous releases, suggesting a quieter, more introspective record. That’s exactly what you get, or at least it’s ‘Lana Del Rey’ being intimate and not Lizzy Grant. A lot of the crappy trap-pop has been brushed to one side (apart from ‘High By The Beach’, ‘Freak’ and a couple more tracks) in favour of smoky piano balladry, where Lana has always done best. But now she’s pared it back to the bare minimum, it just sounds plain boring. Lana’s not a ‘singer-songwriter’ in the traditional sense, she can’t fall back on minimalism. What she’s instead left with is more than an hour of draping herself over instrumentation trying to sound as melancholic and sad as possible.
Honeymoon has a tangible atmosphere, something that Lana’s image always promised but never delivered musically. Listen to the opener ‘Honeymoon’ and you feel like you’ve stepped into a Disney soundtrack, and this isn’t a happy movie. Lana throws a mysterious, scary song right in at the start of the album, with arguably one of her best vocal performances to date, because it sounds so much more natural than ‘High By The Beach’, the evil twin of the major singles released prior to the album dropping. The lyrics pull from a David Lynch film and a Californian legend hybridisation, with lyrics about ‘Dark blue’ and ‘There are violets in your eyes’. Of course, she’s still obsessed with the bad boy imagery in ‘there are guns that blaze around you’, but at this point that just comes with guaranteed with every Lana record in some form. Lana doesn’t always talk about bad boys, that’s just a common theme. On ‘God Knows I Tried’, we finally get an insight into what she actually might be like. Lana sings ‘On Monday they destroyed me / But by Friday I’m revived’ and ‘God knows I’ve lived, begged, borrowed an cried’. It’s a soundtrack to her war with the media on her authenticity and sees her try and please people, but no one quite believes her anymore.
The attempts to sound ‘big’ are lost, especially on ‘Art Deco’ or ‘Religion’. ‘Religion’ begins as an acoustic track – fair enough – but shortly after, muffled EDM-sized drums thunder across the track, then the dreaded trap beats bring back painful memories of ‘High By The Beach’ and Lana wails across the chorus with orchestration trying its best to create the same sort of atmosphere than ‘Honeymoon’ did. The lyrics leave little to be desired too. Lana sings about her boy being her ‘religion’ and how ‘it was never about the money or the drugs’. But if we’re talking bad lyrics, the next track, ‘Salvatore’, really takes the cake. Lana manages to slip the Italian-accented ‘Ciao Amore’ and ‘Soft ice creams’ into the chorus along with some ‘La da da’s. The heavy-handed orchestration makes a return once again, never making the same impact as ‘Honeymoon’. It seems as though the opener was just wishful thinking that Lana could put out something with just a hint of emotion or atmosphere because the rest of Honeymoon is music trying its hardest to feel sad.
When Lana doesn’t have to rely on her man, she makes a compelling character. On ‘Music To Watch Boys To’ she sings ‘I see you’re going / so I play my music, watch you leave’ and on ‘The Blackest Thing’ she begins by rejecting a breakup and by the end she sings ‘You should have known better’ and acknowledges ‘I’m on my own again’. She presents a different image, one more powerful and one who does the manipulating and controlling, not the other way around. It’s refreshing, especially as the instrumentation on both ‘Music To Watch Boys To’ and ‘The Blackest Day’ does a little more to try and make the album sound less miserable.
Honeymoon started so good. The title track was brimming with darkness and creepiness, something that Lana never truly revisits. Instead, Honeymoon retreads over territory well-trodden and brings nothing new to the bland Lana painting pallette. She’s singing the same songs, about the same boys in the same places. You almost would have thought she’d take her own advice from ’24’ and ‘If you lie down with dogs, then you’ll get fleas / Be careful of the company you keep’. The instrumentation is lazy and uninspired, trying to sound huge and competitive with modern pop, but it falls flat with a serious face and little to say. Even the cover of Nina Simone’s classic ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ can’t pick up some of the shoddiest garbage Lana has ever passed off as music. But this review means nothing. The good ship ‘Soft Grunge’ will sail on, smudged makeup dripping down its cheeks and dreams of 1960s California in its head. Maybe if Lana wasn’t drenched in nostalgia a kick into the twenty-first century might yield some results. There’s always album four.
Funnel Recommends: Honeymoon / Music To Watch Boys To / The Blackest Day