The current streaming era of music has encouraged a bad habit for many artists, particularly those making pop, hip-hop, or r&b music: bloated albums. Music is all about play counts now. When before, a fan of an artist might go buy a physical copy of an album, now that fan simply streams their new album online with a streaming service. That artist before got paid and received recognition based on total physical sales, but now it’s streaming numbers. The problem here is that this naturally creates an incentive to make a longer album. Assuming that 50,000 people are going to listen to a given album and their revenue is determined by how many track plays that album gets, it’s better to stick 20 tracks on an album instead of 10. In the past few years, this idea has started a trend of bloated albums. The individual listener ultimately gets their choice of what they want to listen to. For already well-known artists, who cares if you stick a handful of extra garbage tracks on an album, get a few thousand more listens, and the listeners can ignore the songs if they don’t like them? Or even better yet, maybe you get lucky and one of those extras blows up. The point is, there is no good incentive for concision in a streaming world right now. Now, there is duality to this problem: streaming services pay a notoriously low rate for streaming numbers, which is encouraging artists to pump their albums full of even more songs. I’m not claiming that these artists are wrong for bloating their albums in this way, but it is a fact that they are financially encouraged to do so and I think it’s dragging down the quality of albums being put out.
Lana Del Rey’s new album Lust for Life is one of these bloated albums. There are a number of tracks on this album that really tie almost everything together and create a solid pop song. Lana has always had a solid ear for melody and patience in her music, but all of her albums have come with a number of flaws as well. Lust for Life is no different. The trap influence in the instrumentals is at best a neutral factor in most of these songs and at worst a big distraction. There is a section of this album that I think is one of the worst runs of songs in Lana’s entire discography, and I also think some of Lana Del Rey’s lyrics and stories in this album are some of the more cringe-inducing and cheesy ones of her entire career. Nonetheless, more than a handful of the tracks on this album are still really solid, and on the whole I’d probably still describe my overall opinion of this album as positive. This is the biggest problem with this streaming problem described above. At 42 minutes, Lust for Life would probably be a great album. At 72 minutes, I have to settle for decent.
Most of the songs here still are bolstered by a really nice pop melody, and I have always loved Lana Del Rey’s voice. “Love” has to be my favorite track of the album – it’s got one of the best melodies and fortunately no trap influence. This song sounds very much like classic Lana. I don’t mind the title track either. Even though it obviously was written with top 40 aspirations, I think this song works pretty well and the Weeknd puts in a solid feature. However, after that, the run from “13 Beaches” to “Groupie Love” is probably one of the worst runs on any Lana Del Rey album so far and I actually think “Summer Bummer” is my least favorite Lana Del Rey song of her entire career. This run of songs is almost identical in tone and sound, and they are all the worst victims of the trap-influence that pervaded this album. I understand that it was probably time to diversify for Lana, but given her entire contemporary vintage persona she has built, I am stunned that she opted to do it by adding in this half-baked attempt at trap music. There are songs that pull it off better than others: “In My Feelings” has one of my favorite choruses in the album and has a trap beat. Yet on the whole, the trap influence on Lust for Life is laughably bad. Lana has used hip-hop samples before, especially on her debut, but back then they were used with care and brought soul to her music. It’s almost as if she has done a complete reversal with her use of these samples, adding a generic “hey” on every 4th beat in some tracks and having Playboi Carti ad-lib gibberish throughout all of “Summer Bummer”. I could probably break down individually each of these songs and what was done wrong, but I’m going to chalk this entire section up to the album being overly bloated and move on. I’d give them all one listen if you’re interested in Lana Del Rey, but I’ve just begun skipping them completely on my listens.
The other primary complaint I have with the rest of the album is the lyrics. Some of these songs can be really tough to get through if you’re really paying attention to the lyrics. Listening to Lana describe Coachella attendees as some lost, forgotten group of people just trying to achieve their dreams is probably the toughest slog to get through lyrically speaking (I assure you – the people attending Coachella are probably very well taken care of). I also think that the political/environmental statement in “Change” is misguided. She claims that “change” will come if we are patient, and I think the opposite message is really what is necessary right now. Another example is “Lust for Life”: after a dozen or so listens, I am almost certain this song has no meaning whatsoever. I understand there is a lot of hope in these lyrics for a lot of people and at worst this is really just naive songwriting, but I cannot always shake it off when I’m listening to this album.
At this point in this review I have mostly trashed this album, but in reality there is still a lot to enjoy and I think part of the reason I’m compelled to criticize Lana Del Rey is because she has always had a lot of potential. You can really tell on “Love”, “God Bless America…”, “Get Free”, and some of these other tracks how tuned her ear is for a good melody, her voice is distinctive and beautiful, and her dual-nature persona is a great start to really explore some interesting ideas in her music. Not all of the album is a lyrical mess either; I thought “Tomorrow Never Came” and “Heroin” were both very well written. I specifically dig hard into Lana Del Rey’s music because I am waiting for that day where it all comes together. For now, I will have to continue to settle. Lust for Life is a complicated album that brings a lot of good things, but never at the same time. You’ve got well-written songs that are just boring (“13 Beaches”), there are catchy songs with terrible lyrics (“Coachella/Woodstock…”), you’ve got blatant cash-grabs (“Summer Bummer”), and you’ve got a small sample of tracks that really pull it all together (“Love”, “Beautiful People…”, “Tomorrow Never Came”).
I spent a lot of time thinking about what score I wanted to give this album. It’s an album of extremes, and there is a lot to love and a lot to hate. I had a hard time reconciling my different opinions even within the same track. In the end, I made my decision by thinking about the fact that I’m still happily listening to 60-70% of the tracks on here after a lot of full album listens, and I think Lana has continued to show potential and promise even if she is still not hitting her ceiling after four albums. Lust for Life is bloated, has a terrible trap influence through a number of tracks, and often has cheesy, naive lyrics – but god damn it, it is a charming, catchy, and promising album when it does get it right.