Category Archives: Review

​Thoughts on Lana Del Rey’s Lust For Life

When I first listened to Lust For Life a day after its release I wanted to respond in full right away, but ultimately decided to listen to it several times first, allowing the overall flavour to separate into its notes like a good wine. During this process, I allowed the excitement to settle and formed my own thoughts on what the strongest parts of the album are to me.

To say it isn’t my favourite LDR album does not subtract from its merit; when choosing my favourite Lana album I tend to think about which album works the best as an overall piece and, in my opinion, this is Honeymoon, which is a gorgeous album. It showed growing thematic promise and proof that LDR, whilst she does recycle, also takes on new subjects and new sounds that serve an album’s story rather than the radio.

Lust For Life didn’t have this same flow, exactly – it’s very listenable, but definitely has songs on it that don’t belong. This said, different styles are experimented with which do really complement the signature Lana sound of the album, as evidenced by the collaborations (I particularly love the duet with Stevie Nicks, ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’ and with Sean Ono Lennon, ‘Tomorrow Never Came’.)

What makes me love the album thematically is that although Lana clearly wants this to be an optimistic album set apart from the others (clearly expressed by being the only album cover on which she is smiling), she also embraces and even has an indulgent sense of humour about the Sad Girl aesthetics she has woven into her music and visuals over time.

c9juz9luaaedowx-1

Lust For Life album cover, 2017

To contextualize this: Certain attitudes within the feminist community sometimes use the very patriarchal structure they want to resist to invalidate female sadness, female madness, female performance. They have a very definite idea of how strength and resistance manifest in the realm of protest. There is a pressure to always be strong or successful, and any shortcoming or sensitivity is almost an open wound subject to being labeled unfeminist. I would argue that this denies women an important part of human experience and perpetuates the idea that sensitivity is negative and should be silenced.

Audrey Wollen says of Sad Girl Theory that it is ‘the proposal that the sadness of girls should be witnessed and re-historicized as an act of resistance, of political protest.’ She claims that ‘girls being sad has been categorized as this act of passivity, and therefore, discounted from the history of activism’ and that she is ‘trying to open up the idea that protest doesn’t have to be external to the body […] There’s a long history of girls who have used their own anguish, their own suffering, as tools for resistance and political agency. Girls’ sadness isn’t quiet, weak, shameful, or dumb: It is active, autonomous, and articulate. It’s a way of fighting back.’ (source)

d24d7673-4a1a-4b6d-8bff-35de208fd0b6

Sylvia Plath, the general fan base of whom is often dismissed as merely a bunch of narcissistic teenage girls

All too often dismissed about historic Sad Girl icons – Plath, Monroe – is that they were also capable of exquisite happiness. This is certainly what sets Lust For Life apart from Del Rey’s other albums more than anything else, and the aspect of it I enjoy the most. In the trailer for the album, a holographic image of Lana muses, “each morning I have the luxury of asking myself, “What shall I cook up for the kids today? Something with a little spice? Something with a little bitterness but is ultimately sweet? Or shall I take the day off and turn down the fire, and just take a moment to send my love to them over the ether?” Because sometimes just being pure of heart, and having good intentions, and letting them be known is the most worthy contribution an artist can make.”

screen-shot-2017-03-29-at-10-04-54-am

Lana and the lunar cycle in the Lust For Life album trailer, drawing attention to her role as a woman figure

For Lana, it seems, being pure of heart is not necessarily channeling aggressive positivity (something we see a high saturation of recently) but being honest. It is acknowledging her responsibility to provide a message for her fans, but not denying any part of the spectrum of her experience. Emphasizing the importance of being hopeful, but accepting that happiness can’t be reduced to an end-goal and accepting that being human, being a woman in our society, is really hard sometimes.

Here are my personal favourite songs on the album and why I think they’re the strongest tracks in conveying this message.

CHERRY
This song shows the most aesthetic self-awareness, and acknowledgment of the fragility of nostalgic, romantic images. Referring to the obvious iconic songs (plus her obsession with peaches), she laments, ‘my cherries and wine, rosemary and thyme, and all of my peaches are ruined.’ She uses the theme of disintegration in the song, particularly poignant in the line, ‘my celluloid scenes are torn at the seams’ with reference to the found-footage montages Lana has used in her visuals from the beginning. By doing this, she powerfully conveys the falling apart of artificiality in the face of “real” love and the feeling of somewhat losing one’s sense of self almost violently, as shown by her metaphor of the firing squad. It’s really over-the-top and really heartbreaking all the same.

WHITE MUSTANG
Again, Lana shows aesthetic self-awareness and almost self-mockery in the line, ‘Slippin’ on my dress in soft filters’. This song is about women who love too much (‘I was such a fool for believing that you / Could change all the ways you’ve been living / But you just couldn’t stop.’) We are reminded of her single ‘Shades of Cool’ from the album Ultraviolence which features a similarly harmful relationship in which she regrets that she ‘can’t fix him, can’t make him better’. The song is heavily romanticized but also, I feel, shows the futility of such a love.

SUMMER BUMMER
This song really grew on me over the course of about three listens and now it’s one of my favourites! I think the line, ‘You can’t escape my affection / Wrap you up in my daisy chains’ is so powerful in a way you might miss on the first listen. Over the years, Lana Del Rey has pastiched the image of femme fatale and she is now recreating it. She doesn’t use any words in the semantic field of allure, she very purposefully uses the word ‘affection’. She brings a power to affection and sentiment. The phrasing ‘wrap you up’ and ‘can’t escape’ connote images of the serpentine, which are very typically femme fatale, but she subverts this by using daisy chains, surely a symbol of simple affection, innocence and childhood summer days. This also plays on her former Lolita image but also gives a power to sentimentality in a way that really appeals to me and which I think is really radical and important.

IN MY FEELINGS
This is the ultimate self-indulgent, tongue-in-cheek Sad Girl track. In the best way, it borders on the female grotesque and reminds me of Mulholland Drive when she sings almost monotonously, ‘I’m crying while I’m cumming.’ This song is exactly what I mean when I say that in this album (and, I would argue, in albums before) she is bringing a self-awareness and wry sense of humour about her own work and themes. It always makes me smile a bit on the line, ‘Sobbin’ in my cup of coffee ’cause I fell for another loser’. This is what many of us experience in private but don’t admit because we are told to grow a thick skin. It gives us permission to feel these things.

To conclude what I love overall about the album, it isn’t just these permissions in ‘In My Feelings’ that make me love the song – it is the empowering refrain:
‘Who’s tougher than this bitch, who’s freer than me? / You wanna make the switch, be my guest, baby / I’m feeling all my fucking feelings.’
This clearly says that there is power in processing things emotionally rather than just switching them off and repressing them. She is arguing that allowing herself to feel her feelings is what gives her power, what makes her strong.

Lust For Life on iTunes: link

— Laura

Sally Cookson’s Jane Eyre at Theatre Royal, Brighton

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”

It’s raining outside and I am recovering from a late night with a cup of tea, thinking about the Brontës (not at all unusual for me.)

It feels like such a long time since I have been to the theatre. Caught in a lifestyle where attention spans are decidedly dwindling and television is becoming increasingly cinematic (the latter being, don’t get me wrong, great) I think I had forgotten the value of going to see live theatrical performances. I have been to the Royal before – once (I think) to see Matthew Bourne’s blitz-era Cinderella, and another time to see Rosamund Pike and Tim McInnery star in a stirring and resonant adaptation of Hedda Gabler. The Royal is not a large theatre, which means it’s intimate. Previously I have sat in the stalls and one of the circles, but my friend and I went for the gallery seating for this performance, which I highly recommend if you want to get to the theatre on a budget; the size of the Royal makes it possible to get a perfectly good view in the gallery, just make sure you’re fairly close to the middle of whichever row you have chosen without being right in the middle, where your view is likely to be restricted by bars.

Processed with VSCO with e3 preset

Above: The stage prior to the performance, as seen from Gallery row B. 

As seen, Ambassador’s production provides an innovative answer to the following question: how on earth does one adapt this doorstop of a Bildungsroman for the stage? At first glance, my feeling was that this was going to be a refreshingly minimalist adaptation in terms of staging, stripping the novel bare. Within the enclosing decor of the theatre, here was a set-up which was open and full of possibilities. I had watched the trailer for the production, but there were still parts of the staging I did not expect – for example, the band near the centre of the stage. It was interesting to see them incorporate music into the performance right in front of us, rather than behind the scenes.

To get to the play itself, then.

The band was indeed utilised in such an atmospheric way. As I watched the play, it made me question what kind of performance it was. It wasn’t a musical; the actors were not singing their lines. However, the band’s soundtrack ebbed and flowed with the story, singing relevant lyrics which aided in narrating. Most of the music and lyrics were folkloric in style, which I loved, because folklore is such an important part of the Brontës’  fiction. Combined with this was a spectacular opera singer who emerged at pivotal parts of Jane’s personal development, wearing a red dress. This was an effective continuation of the red room theme in the novel and a haunting reminder of Jane’s entrapment and suppressed rage, regardless of her changing locations and situations; the continual refrain of the ‘unjust’ which pervaded the play.

The red room itself is what I consider to be the heart of the novel, and something I was wondering how they would deal with; lighting and the use of invisible barriers were sufficient to portray this in the horrifying way it should be. Lighting was something I noticed made all the difference in this production, and I was impressed with the way they kept much of the staging the same and completely changed the mood with lighting, sound effects, and props and window frames suspended from the ceiling. The actors also interacted with the window frames, drawing attention to the theme of windows and thresholds Brontë fixates on, and the barriers Jane must break.

Delightfully wacky aspects of the play included the actors grouping together and jogging on the spot for carriage journeys (and even stopping for a pee break, something I have never seen paid attention to in the logistics of period drama), and one actor playing Rochester’s dog with what looked like a folded belt to use as his tail. Pleasant surprises were the use of two modern songs incorporated into the music: ‘Mad About the Boy’ and ‘Crazy’. I think any more than two modern songs would have been Luhrmann-esque and a little much for this type of production, but it was just enough to mix it up a bit and keep it refreshing and unpredictable.

I really cannot fault the acting. It was so interesting to see Jane’s rage brought to the surface in Worrall’s performance, rather than quietly boiling. Her exclamation, “I am no bird, and no net ensnares me” echoes in my mind. A brilliant Jane to say the least, and, certainly, one which rivals with other portrayals I have seen.

Some highlights for me:

  • The use of props, particularly the wedding veil Jane grudgingly accepts to make Rochester happy. In a nightmare sequence, the actors use wind machines to make the veil float and look like a spectre; entirely Gothic, and entirely beautiful. The veil is later shown torn in two by Grace Poole, later revealed to be the ‘madwoman in the attic’, Bertha Mason. I enjoyed the way they included the veil as a device to present the theme of veiling and unveiling in female Gothic tradition.
  • FIRE. THE USE OF FIRE. Perhaps I just love fire (why have I not yet been to see Rammstein, remind me?) It was used sparingly at shocking moments in the play; firstly, the first arson attempt, and secondly as Jane is called away from St John Rivers (“Sinjin”) and back to Thornfield, where a row of flames ignites behind Jane.
  • The way sound completely transformed the setting in each scene. The staging remains the same, but a simple use of reverb in the speech transported us from Thornfield to the church.
  • Obviously, the chemistry between Jane and Mr Rochester.

The only thing I didn’t like:

Throughout the play, I didn’t really feel the presence of Bertha Mason as much as I thought should be felt… I thought the singer was Bertha, but she was also one of the forms of narrator, and I don’t think Bertha’s violence would allow her to have a perfectly kept red dress. And it just wasn’t clear that she was Bertha. I feel that the haunting of Bertha is necessary for the darker part of Jane, and we keep expecting to eventually see Bertha in the play, but we don’t. They do draw parallels between Bertha and Jane (“Do you think I would hate you, if you were mad?”) but it seemed to me that they shied away from presenting the sad reality of Bertha herself.

This said, I thought it was a really innovative and inspiring take on the novel and one I certainly won’t forget.

★★★★☆

— Laura