It feels like an age ago now that Lana Del Rey (real name Elizabeth Grant) shot to stardom on the back of the string-swept, cinematic beauty of Video Games. On the back of a self-produced video uploaded to YouTube, Del Rey was catapulted to international stardom.
Her follow-up album Born to Die cemented her popularity, but also fanned the incendiary backlash that consumed discussion about her music.
Perhaps the harshest charge was that she was the catspaw of a wicked major label scheme to manufacture hipster music success. Her adapted stage name, former musical direction, Angelina Jolie-esque lips and label contract were all proffered as evidence in this supposed conspiracy — a taint Del Rey has never quite been able to wash clean.
There’s little wonder that many cling to this sleight against her — her music does sound like the perfect concoction to accompany the trend of inner-urban outsiders.
Born to Die, the late 2012 EP Paradise and last year’s Ultraviolence all established Del Rey as one of the most distinctive musicians in pop.
Whether it was Ultraviolence’s predilection for sweeping instrumentals or Born to Die’s more forward-thinking production, Del Rey has become the equivalent of Instagram’s Sepia setting — a beautiful, sad and timeless filter that basks everything in doe-eyed nostalgia. She captures that melancholic longing and retro-revivalism that has people flocking to Polaroids, vinyl records and overpriced vintage.
What makes Del Rey distinctive is that the vast majority of her tunes mine are moody, gloomy, melancholic and doomed.
In Honeymoon, Del Rey continues her relationship with producer Rick Nowels, the man widely credited for helping her realise the cinematic instrumentalism that dominated Ultraviolence. Reported sessions with Mark Ronson didn’t result in any songs on this record which is a disappointment for those wondering what Del Rey would sound like with the guidance of Amy Winehouse’s collaborator.
Nowels manning the boards means Honeymoon is gorgeous — a consistent hour of slow burning, string-drenched pop that lulls you into dreamy soundscapes and mid-afternoon flights of fancy.
The scant musical distinction between tracks means the focus is on Del Rey’s wonderful turns of phrase.
The album’s opening title track kicks off with what could be a nod to her detractors (“We both know that it’s not fashionable to love me”) before settling into a familiar refrain referencing violent doomed relationships and smouldering sexuality (“There are guns that blaze around you/ There are roses in between my thighs/ And a fire that surrounds you”).
The jazz-tinged balled Terrance Loves You references David Bowie, the lost legends of Hollywood and various other musical genres. It’s a haunting early-album emotional crescendo.
Lead single High By The Beach is a glorious pop song that injects some hip-hop beats to the chorus to great effect. No other song on the album approaches this song’s levels of excitement, topped off by her kiss-off to a former lover in the chorus (“The truth is I never bought into your bullshit/ When you would pay tribute to me cause I know that/ All I wanted to do was get high by the beach”).
Salvatore mixes in violins, military drumbeats and verses sung in Italian to evoke 1940s Italy via Frank Sinatra. The track continues her fascination with “summertime sadness” with lines such as “Summer’s hot but I’ve been cold without you”, before rather bizarrely ending with “Now it’s time to eat soft ice cream”.
Closing off the album is a cover of Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, a perfect choice to showcase Del Rey’s operatic readings of classical ’60s Hollywood melodrama.
At about 65 minutes, the record is a tad long, but remains an easy and engaging listen. You pretty much know what you’re going to get with a Lana Del Rey record — grand, cinematic baroque pop — and Honeymoon delivers exactly that.