She’s the kind of woman who can easily wrap a very bad man around her little finger. She’s also the kind of girl who enjoys playing with fire, then singing about her regrets. And Lana Del Rey is her name. Elizabeth Grant’s stage persona has matured considerably since her 2010 EP debut on Lana Del Rey aka Lizzy Grant, a title that includes a reference to a previous stage name. As Jon Caramanica observed recently (9/17/15) in The New York Times: “She has hardened, ossified into a thing of refined cool. The more famous Ms Del Rey has grown, the more obscure she’s become. What was once something of an elaborate performance has become merely a simple mode of being.”
Because of Del Rey’s glamorous, not to mention cinematic, image it’s easy to overlook the fact that she’s also a songwriter, complete with a distinct voice that evokes the injured beauty of Lena Horne and Billy Holiday. As such, the femme fatale we see on screen is ultimately an expression of the singer-songwriter behind the archetypal image. In the case of Del Rey’s most recent release Honeymoon (2015) a dozen new tracks—not counting a T S Eliot interlude and a cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”—are added to a growing body of work about the heartaches and drama of a captivatingly cursed woman.
From the “Honeymoon” to “Swan Song,” Del Rey continues to evoke an aesthetic of insouciance in which tragic decisions and the consequences they create are simply a part of life. Each song is an ode to following one’s heart into uncertain, possibly dangerous, places. “We both know the history of violence that surrounds you,” Del Rey croons in the title track. “But I’m not scared, there’s nothing to lose now that I’ve found you.” In “Swan Song,” there’s a Bruce Springsteen-like quality to the song’s storytelling that suggests that “Born To Run” was an influence, certainly lyrically, if not musically:
Live your life,
Live your life, where you’ve been,
Where you’re going to (going to),
Say good night,
Say good night to the life in the world we live,
I’m going to follow you.
Then, in “High By the Beach,” Del Rey’s lyrics swoon at the realization that the man she’s with is no longer worth the trouble he’s bringing into her life. So, all she wants to do, as she sings again and again in the refrain, “is get high by the beach, get high by the beach, get high!”
I must confess, when I saw Honeymoon make its debut a few days ago, I hesitated at listening for fear that after Ultraviolence (2014) Del Rey would either mimic herself or delve into unchartered territory where I didn’t want to go. What I heard, though, is a performer completely confident in her vision as an artist. The moment you hear that sultry voice and those lush, slightly hip hop chords you know it’s her. Yet, despite the familiar soundscape, Honeymoon inspired fresh desires and reveries as I followed this gorgeous “freak” around in my mind, from the Hamptons to California.
So let’s dance in slow motion,
Tear it up, tear it up,
Let’s dance by the ocean.