Genre: Dream Pop
Producer: Lana Del Rey, Rick Nowels, Kieron Menzies
Released: September 18, 2015
Lana Del Rey has always built her image around a concept I like to call ‘The Broken American Dream’. Musically she draws from the female artists of 50s and 60s, and her lyrics often invoke an imagery from the same era: denim jeans, classic cars, white wooden houses, marital unhappiness and drowning your sorrows into Jim Beam. A bittersweet cocktail of Kerouacian decadence and desperation, sprinkled with tiny glimmers of hope.
Del Rey’s previous albums have been a great showcase of wasted potential: each record has contained a few beautiful gems surrounded by forgettable background noise. It would seem that if she just took a few years off, locked herself in a remote woodland cabin and really worked on her material, she could create something extraordinary. So naturally I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn that she did the exact opposite: Honeymoon was released barely a year after her previous album Ultraviolence.
Soundwise Honeymoon feels more subdued and sophisticated than her previous records. The album opens with the title track “Honeymoon”, a piano-driven, sombre cinematic ballad about a relationship with a man with a hidden, violently aggressive side. The quiet, ominous violin sweeps accentuate the lyrics, fitting the song perfectly, setting the tone for the rest of the album. The production is reminiscent of Lorde’s 2013 debut record: the instrumentation is very unflashy and gives the spotlight to Del Rey’s beautiful singing voice, which works as the main instrument throughout the album. She has finally stopped the infernal slurred snarling through her nose, showing now her full range and capability instead. The unobtrusive instrumentation consists mainly of simplistic piano, barely-distorted electric guitar and some faint keyboards for ambience. Del Rey’s voice is often layered to create an effect reminiscent of the 60s close-harmony groups; the occasional percussion consists mainly of minimalistic hip-hop influenced machine beats. As a result the music sort of exists in its own timeless vacuum.
The low-key production gives the center stage to the songwriting. While the first listen of the album might flow in one ear and out of the other without leaving any noticeable impression due to the subdued nature of the record, the consecutive listens reveal multiple new layers and hooks. Songs like “Music To Watch Boys To”, “High By The Beach” and “Salvatore” slowly creep into your subconscious, latching their unnoticeable sharp claws into your brain; eventually the inconspicuous background noise becomes an earworm. “Terrence Loves You” throws a curveball and turns into a weird retooling of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. The album ends with the obligatory Nina Simone cover “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, which doesn’t quite reach the same emotional grip as the last album’s “The Other Woman”, but that’s more due to the difference in the strength of material than in the actual performance.
Overall Honeymoon defies all odds and expectations. The album is tightly written, coherent and well-balanced; all the things the previous Lana Del Rey albums failed to achieve despite the much longer time periods it took to release them. Maybe she just works better under stress and strict deadlines. Whatever it is, it has caused Del Rey to make her best album yet.