In many ways, Urban Outfitters, the clothes shop where she opted to unveil Honeymoon to the world, is the perfect venue for Lana Del Rey. Both are hopelessly obsessed with the past, and insist on looking at days gone by through a hazy Instagram filter. Their vision of the past is informed more by movies then facts, and it’s a slightly damaged view at that. Rather than capturing the glamour of days gone by, they both want to mourn the faded glamour of yesteryear. And like anybody who peddles what is essentially nostalgia, both constantly face accusations about authenticity.
Last year’s Ultraviolence seemed to be an attempt by Del Rey to prove her own authenticity. Produced by The Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence was a loud, muscular album, largely consisting of bluesy guitar riffs. The emphasis on “real” instruments, guitar, bass, drums, bolstered by a scorching, reverby production, was as though the singer was trying to prove how “real” she was. Honeymoon is a drastic step backward.
The title track, which opens the album, is unlike anything that Del Rey has ever released, and for a moment it seems as though this album is going to move in a different direction than her previous releases. A spooky melody and stark, minimal strings create a dark, moody atmosphere and the song sounds as though it belongs in a film adaption of a Raymond Chandler novel. Placing this at the start of the album was a mistake, because it gives the impression that the rest of the album will be steeped in film noir, which would have been a logical direction for Del Rey. Unfortunately much of the album rethreads the same ground covered on her debut, Born to Die.
Aside from a handful of very, very good singles, Born to Die was, for the most part, a weak debut. From the second track onwards, Music to Watch Boys Too, it becomes clear that Honeymoon intends to regurgitate much of her debut. This translates to having an obviously synthetic string section backed by an 808 drum machine, and Del Rey playing around with multi tracked vocals. Once or twice, maybe, this can be interesting, but on Honeymoon the effect is bland. Six of the album’s thirteen tracks follow this formulae (Terrence Loves You, Music, Religion, Freak, Art Deco, Blackest Day), and these tracks are completely forgettable. Del Rey relies on the same type of falsetto vocals on each one of these tracks, to the point where it becomes a laughably generic feature of the album. What’s really a shame is that in-between these tracks, there are some really great songs that almost live up to the title track.
God Knows I Tried, with its lonely, reverberated guitar, and slowly building string section is a particularly haunting track. Against such a minimal background Del Rey can show off her vocal talents, which is made all the more effective when she doesn’t use a multi tracking effect. Salvatore has a similar effect, but is dimmed slightly by the cod Italian she insists on singing.
Honeymoon also ends with three tracks that are amid the strongest on the album. 24 and Swan Song are the two most cinematic efforts on the album, each one feeling as though it should be played following the tragic ending of a movie, with the plucked guitars and light strings creating an atmosphere of longing and terror. Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, a Nina Simone standard, is a bit of a predictable ending, but it’s standard, with Del Rey keeping with the tracks jazz arrangement.
Lyrically, Honeymoon sees Del Rey cover well-worn ground, which is actually starting to become quite insufferable. Del Rey has drawn criticism in the past for being anti-feminist, for yearning to live in a time when women could be treated as a piece of property, or for expressing a desire to stop living, full stop. Throughout her career its been argued that Del Rey is portraying a character, and on Honeymoon she shreds any sense of trying to sound real and instead embodies this character to the fullest. After all, on an early song she tells us that “lies live forever”. Del Rey’s, the character, life might be fun for a day, but after a while it would get depressing and boring, which might explain many of this record’s tracks. Even the good songs have some seriously clunky lyrics “Dream your life away”, “We know it’s unfashionable to love me” “All I wanna do is get high by the beach”……….Honeymoon is probably Lana Del Rey’s most Lana Del Rey album yet. Which is to say it’s complete bollocks, but as complete bollocks goes, it can be entertaining at times.