Album Of The Week: Lana Del Ray ‘Honeymoon’
Lana Del Rey’s heavily anticipated fourth studio album ‘Honeymoon’ opens like a stage curtain, as if the first track was scored from some faded black and white film. Immediately haunting, orchestral and mysterious, her signature croon wafts over piano and violin before moving via soft percussive undertones and slowly embellished harmony into Fiona Apple territory. Any fan of layered vocals, classical instrumentation and sixties movies will immediately fall in love.
With less than 15 months since her last full length release, such a surprising and intriguing opening may be considered something of a risk. However by utilising recording spaces such as The Green Building and Electric Lady Studios while featuring production credits including Rick Nowels, Patrick Warren and Adam Ayan, there is an implication of a premeditated approach to Lana’s sound. The tone of the release is already apparent, and for lovers of ambient soundtrack styling, title track ‘Honeymoon’ acts as a strong herald for recent single ‘Music To Watch Boys To’, nodding in the direction and mood of Portishead. Third track ‘Terrence Loves You’ cements a sound reminiscent of some nostalgic walk down Hollywood Boulevard, the name even mentioned lyrically. Following the vocal and musical tradition of Nancy Sinatra, moody western tremolo from the sixties is a feature of ‘God Knows I Tried’.
The record takes a postmodern turn with ‘High By The Beach’, mixing elements of Sia and Coolio with antique Wurlitzer keys to create a cuss-fuelled hip-hop sound overlaid with sweet, reverb saturated voices. ‘Freak’ and ‘Art Deco’ are excessively downbeat trip-hop stunners, equally at home on the silver screen as they would be wafting into a dimly lit room wedged between hard house sections of a techno club. Lana’s choice to enunciate part of a T.S. Eliot poem during interlude track ‘BURNT NORTON’ (aptly, the word INTERLUDE comprises a portion of the title) projects a strong image of her attitude and commitment to music as more than just pop, instead a memorable art form. It’s at this moment the album comes together sonically and each preceding track makes perfect sense; the listener, meanwhile, is ready for the rest of the record.
Lana sings ‘everything is fine now’, telling us ‘it never was about the money or the drugs’ as her echo-washed voice softly soars over some ever-so-slightly heavier retro beats. Like much of the album it is lyrically ambiguous and full of contrast, but ‘Religion’ is nonetheless a hands-down highlight. Meanwhile, ‘Salvatore’ and ’24’ extend a relaxing mood underpinned by recessed Mediterranean/Western instrumentation. A number of tracks on ‘Honeymoon’ appear to draw their influence from 1960s Westerns and James Bond cinema offerings, and these two are no exception. Somehow the result is entertaining, relaxing and interesting rather than clichéd, which in 2015 is no small achievement.
For a moment, the eighties make a sonic guest appearance with ‘Swan Song’, but with unwavering consistency the track again exercises a modern twist. The album closes with a soft cover of a Nina Simone classic (‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’). The consistent homage to antique soundtracks is exemplified by this version of a famous hit, as the use of old school instrumentation and effects appear in every layer of the song. It is a fitting close to an unusual and artful pop soundscape.
Overall, ‘Honeymoon’ is a unique piece of romantic, retro-modernist fusion, featuring a soprano-rich vocalist journeying across a predominantly ambient landscape. A clever production with a writer and staff who clearly know when to exercise lush, classical fullness and when to allow minimalist moments, the tone is effortlessly wistful, often touching and nostalgic, and always relaxing. ‘Honeymoon’ may not break new ground sonically, but Lana Del Ray has again found her own unique, emotive way to bend genres onto vinyl, and in so doing has earned her place among the classics.