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.
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)
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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