Inscribed on Lana Del Rey’s collarbone is a tattoo that reads “Nina Billie”, in admiration for soul legends Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. Forever transparent about her muses, the Hollywood sadcore founder has had the potential to match her idols’ allure, passionate mystique and reflective song-writing – along with the unfortunate media suffocation they share – but has thus far fallen short on vital attributes such as composition and vocal choices.
Remember the off-putting rapping on “National Anthem” and other early career trials? Her third major release Honeymoon impeccably corrects these faults, as she sours over grandiose orchestra, whilst simultaneously conjuring up a thrilling ride of cinematic goose bumps and sophisticated seduction. Making you wonder why she wasn’t selected ahead of Sam Smith for Spectre’s James Bond theme.
Although Del Rey’s music has incorporated strings before, on previous albums Born To Die and the Dan Auberach produced Ultraviolence as an appropriate accompaniment to her melancholic tales of violent love and battles with fame, the way they are elegantly embraced with such attention to detail on Honeymoon makes them both compelling and classy. Setting the scene effectively for a musician whose outlook on life has matured and developed. Del Rey has more self control and has tactically approached album promotion with low-key exposure, to limit media abuse.
The titular opener is a tension-filled epic with authoritative marching drums and shivering strings, a smooth continuation from her recent soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Big Eyes and a great introduction to Del Rey’s development as an intoxicating mood-setter. One of which is a new emphasis on lullaby humming and scatting to artistic effect, pointing towards her fondness for jazz music. Employed gorgeously on numerous occasions throughout the record, including on the John Barry meets Ennio Morricone “24“, over the top of Hispanic-sounding castanets and tremendous horn. As well as alongside dejected saxophone and reflective piano keys on “Terence Loves You“.
Its inclusion on “Freak” is overshadowed by her new genre creation, call it Orchestral-Trap, featuring the sticky high hats and slow pace nocturnal environment of the latter genre. Elements of the style are blended with electric organ on single “High By The Beach“, electronic balladry on “Art Deco” (a song speculated to be about her New York compatriot Azealia Banks) and Florence and The Machine harp “The Blackest Day“, turning her arrangements into something that sounds refreshing, contemporary and bridging the gap between two contrasting audiences.
“Salvatore” is the album’s standout track and Lana Del Rey’s magnum opus. In the past she’s seemingly inhabited personas of bygone eras and sung in foreign languages (“Carmen“, “Ultraviolence”) and on here, she’s submerged herself into the character of an Italian woman living in the 1940’s singing a romantic aria to her amante, complete with food metaphors, an exotic accent, gramophonic violin and mandolin.
This is also one of many examples of Del Rey’s transformation from a criminal boyfriend-follower – co-dependent on the man’s emotions and blood money wealth – to a more rational independent woman, also heard on “High By The Beach”, which amalgamates lovers and the media interchangeably and on “The Blackest Day”, where epiphanies arise inside the regretful singer’s consciousness. “Swan Song” suggests this could be the end of 30-year-old Lana Del Rey’s career – note that the singer already hinted at retirement after the first album after exhausting her thoughts on her debut – with lyrics pointing towards her quest for freedom: “I will never sing again and with just one wave it goes away”.
If this is the finale to her musical biopic, it’s an influential footprint to leave behind and Lana Del Rey fittingly closes the album with the classic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” from her heroine Nina Simone. The astonishing quality on Honeymoon, should ensure that the one time YouTube sensation’s music will do the talking in her legacy. Lana Del Rey’s Honeymoon is out now on Polydor Records, purchase it here.
Words by Matt Hobbs