Honeymoon starts with a few mournful swells of strings, a moment of silence just long enough to feel awkward, and then this line: “We both know it’s not fashionable to love me.” It feels almost too on-the-nose, too pointed, but then again, everything about Honeymoon is on the nose. This is Lana Del Rey doing Lana Del Rey in the biggest, purest way she knows how; Lana Del Rey being exactly what we asked her to be; Lana Del Rey, gazing back.
The title track sets the tone for the album in more ways than just that. Sonically, all 12 songs are cut from the same cloth as “Honeymoon.” The instrumentals are like the orchestral soundtrack for a movie about the way we conceptualize Old Hollywood Glamour in the 21st century, beautiful and haunting but mostly serving to prop up the main draw: Lana. Her voice sounds better than it ever has, in my opinion. We get the sort of sultry, vaguely bored drawl we’ve come to expect, but there are just enough breathy falsettos and hummed bars peppered in to keep things interesting.
The whole album has the same sadness and pop and glitter of “This is What Makes Us Girls” and “Video Games” (although no song on Honeymoon comes close to being as excellent as “This is What Makes Us Girls”) but it’s also more self-aware in a way that I find vastly appealing. She is singing about jazz and California and pink flamingoes and Billie Holiday; she is really Performing Lana Del Rey. But she knows not everyone loves Lana Del Rey, and the tension that comes out of that self-awareness is a vital element of Honeymoon. “I don’t matter to anyone, but Hollywood legends will never grow old,” she sings on “Terrence Loves You.” The line that follows “we both know it’s not fashionable to love me” is “but you don’t go ‘cause truly there’s nobody for you but me.” She knows. “Look at you, looking at me.” She sees.
The feeling here is that Lana’s relationship to music and fame is about as healthy as her other relationships. She’s “looking in all the wrong places,” she knows “nothing gold can stay,” she just wants to “get high by the beach.” On “Art Deco” she sings, “I’ve got nothing much to live for, ever since I found my fame,” and she means it, but she also isn’t sure she wants to give it up. She’s in love with California and fame and being seen just as much as she resents it; she’s luxuriating in our idea of her music as music to pop Xanax and lounge by the pool drinking champagne to even when it chafes.
Jessica Hopper said in her review over at Pitchfork that the album “belongs to a larger canon of Southern California Gothic albums—Celebrity Skin, Hotel California, The Hissing of Summer Lawns” because of the way Lana sings about “the sprawl, toxicity, the culture of transactional relationships, the particulars of the light” in California, and I’m definitely inclined to agree. Something about the album feels like dancing by yourself to jazz records and then jumping into an ice-cold pool at a party even though you are in a fancy dress just to feel something. That’s melodramatic, but you have to have an appreciation for dramatic flair to appreciate Honeymoon.
I’ve seen people say that the songs blend together to the point of being almost indistinguishable from one another. That’s a valid criticism; the release doesn’t have a lot of variety, no. Sure, there are highlights (“The Blackest Day,” “God Knows I Tried,” and “Music to Watch Boys To” are my favorites) and missteps (“Religion,” the disappointing chorus of “Art Deco”), but overall the presentation and sound are unified across all the tracks in a way that feels intentional rather than accidental. For me, that’s a positive, and honestly there is something punk rock about the fact that she knows this isn’t radio music, these songs aren’t commercial-material, but you get the sense that she shrugged and recorded a whole album of almost sleepy-sounding romantic songs anyway. I like that. This is an album for putting on a turntable, for lying on the ground while you listen, for losing track of how long you let your last coat of nail polish dry for because you can’t tell how many songs have passed.
All of that being said, I’m not going to tiptoe around what people want to know: this album isn’t Born to Die 2.0. Lana Del Rey will never make anything as captivating and dynamic as Born to Die, and she knows it. You hear it on Honeymoon, you hear it in interviews. She knows. But that doesn’t mean Honeymoon isn’t important, doesn’t mean it isn’t progress in its own way. Honeymoon feels like the logical conclusion to a trilogy of albums developing the story and sound of Lana Del Rey, a singer that the world once accused of being a hoax just because of the control she exerted over her image and presentation.
Now she’s given us the ultimate product, a blues-y, mournful procession of an album that feels like the essence of Who Lana Del Rey Is, or who we are expecting her to be at least. But it is vital to recognize that she won’t give us everything, that she doesn’t have to. She isn’t looking at us from the cover. She’s looking into the distance, and she’s shielded by sunglasses and hat and hair and folded arms and car. We only have what she’s willing to give us. But what she’s given us is beautiful.