Whilst Morrissey might still glumly balance the papal tiara of mope on the demolished remnants of his quiff, millennial waif/time displaced background character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel Lana Del Rey (nee Elizabeth Grant) has been icily ruling over her own Instagram ready So-Cal purgatory since she broke through with the seminal baroque-pop ballad Video Games and its parent album, the notably less seminal Born To Die in 2011. Channelling 50s-60s chanteuses via thoroughly modern slick pop production; Del Rey seized a territory between indie ice queen and pop diva which came with a public persona that seemed almost like a parody of vapidity and white privilege. Considering that her lyrical concerns primarily focus on being idly rich, dispassionate sex and the emptiness of dreams she could probably serve as part of a ISIS recruitment video about the evils of the west. To say she was divisive is something of an understatement, but her aching deadpan (if you can wrap your head around that contradiction) and her darkly glittering empty world of luxury and sublimated rage seemed to offer a funhouse mirror up to culture at the beginning of the 21st century, whilst pumping some damnably catchy melodies to the bargain.
Her next album (Ultraviolence) was cut from same ostentatiously expensive cloth, though if anything had an even darker worldview. The unsavoury undertones of the glorification of sexual abuse that lurked alligator-like beneath her lyrics, was thrust into open thanks to a lyrical tribute to The Crystals’ 1963 hosanna to domestic abuse He Hit Me and It Felt Like A Kiss; raising eyebrows and sparking earnest internet thinkpieces left right and centre. Shrugging off concerns by firing off the similarly sable-dark album Honeymoon, many commentators felt that Lana Del Rey had found her lane and would be content to roll in it indefinitely, thrilling devotees and outraging the offenderati until the heat death of the universe. As a result this new record comes as something of a surprise, even down to the front cover: She’s smiling! Not even an ironic smile either, she seems genuinely happy, which is about as off-brand as it would be possible for Del Rey.
Perhaps the most significant departure here is evident from Lust for Life’s first song: Love a warm, grainy, ’50s-style anthem (and by far the album’s best single) in which Del Rey shifts focus from her own internal struggle to address her audience directly. The album’s title (if we ignore the sacrilege of appropriating Iggy Pop) reflects a genuine happiness in engaging with the non-mythological version of America outside her own head, the only problem is that she’s found it just as Trump seems intent on destroying it. Songs like God Bless America- and All the Beautiful Women in It are honest to god protest songs (replete with gunshots for punctuation. Whilst there is still the requisite navel-gazing about broken relationships (she rhymes ‘summer’ with ‘bummer’ on two separate songs fer chrissakes) but with dreamy highpoints like 13 Beaches, it’s hard for even the most seasoned Del Rey sceptic to not be overcome by the record’s surging ebb and flow. However with her best (read: non-solipsistic) foot forward, nothing can overcome the fact that at sixteen tracks, Lust For Life is just too much ennui for anyone to handle. Still the patron saint of wearing a flower-crown at Coachella has outdone herself, arms spread wide, boats against the current (she’s not the only one who can inappropriately quote The Great Gatsby) but her unceasing journey into the past has unexpectedly made landfall somewhere vitally present.