Review: Lana Del Rey Masterfully Balances Old Cinema & Other-Worldly Opulence On ‘Honeymoon’

Lana Del Rey’s last album, Ultarviolence, came out only a year ago. It showed depth and a clear evolution in her sound, and Lana wasted no time getting started on her next record. She was inspired and motivated, and by early 2015 we were hearing about Honeymoon.

Lana has mentioned that Honeymoon would be more similar to her major label debut, Born To Die. To an extent, this is true, but elements of Ultraviolence are unmistakable. Some of the trap influences of Born To Die have returned, as well as full cinematic instrumentation. The mood is also lighter on Honeymoon than on her previous album, weighing less heavily than Ultraviolence. But like Ultraviolence, the new album is overall slow and sparse, if in a slightly less rock influenced way.

One of the major attractions of Honeymoon is the focus on instruments. Strings have always been prominent in Lana’s music, but this time you can hear each soft note of a flute, a horn, or violin. The space has opened up, with empty air that’s not cluttered up with unnecessary sound. This sparseness has made it so each instrument is heard, and this create a lush, rich sound rarely heard on records anymore. While most records these days are overly processed and filled with too much, making the songs sound flat, Honeymoon captures a refreshing intricacy and realness.

The first half of Honeymoon can feel a little slow. The tempos and occasionally bare instrumentation sometimes leave too much room, particularly when each song is so similar, making moments of the record drag a bit. However, if you are in the right mood and are ready to focus in on the songs, you’ll be entranced by the lyrics and instruments rather than sedate tempo.

The second half of Honeymoon picks up more, and is more immediately grabbing with quicker tempos in the choruses and a bigger sound that’s more cinematic. The songs become more dynamic and fuller sonically. Whereas the first half of Honeymoon frequently recalls Ultraviolence, these latter songs are more reminiscent of Lana’s Born To Die tracks.

Honeymoon is a stunning album that has been expertly executed. Every note – from Lana’s pristine voice to the soft flutes and the lush strings – is perfectly placed, and the album shows a true mastery of many styles and eras of music. Honeymoon is the kind of album that deserves your full attention when you listen. It can work as lovely background music, but you will get the most out of it by focusing on each word and sound.

Honeymoon perfectly blends all shades of Lana so far – Born To Die, Paradise, and Ultraviolence – and mixes in new elements and a refined confidence. It’s opulent, honest, and introspective, incorporating sounds from far-flung corners of the world and eras in time. Honeymoon is an impressive album, and among the best to be released in 2015.


Track by Track

“Honeymoon” – The first song on the album is also the first track that graced our ears back in July. “Honeymoon” opens with dramatic, lavish strings before Lana joins in. Her vocals are beautiful and crystal, lending a sultry air to the slow, old fashioned music. “Honeymoon” is mysterious and cinematic, like an old ’60s movie starring a classy diva on extended vacation. 

“Music To Watch Boys To” – The a cappella intro makes a smooth transition from the calm of “Honeymoon,” but the magic begins when the instruments come in. The song is open and warm, where each sound of the flute and soft drum hit adds to the atmosphere. “Music To Watch Boys To” sounds lush and jungle-like, a tropical peek into another world far away in space and time. The chorus brings the most energy when Lana admits that “I like you a lot.” In spite of the jungly atmosphere, the chorus is firmly planted in the beat of today. 

“Terrence Loves You” – The third song is a jazzy, slow ballad with minimal instrumentation. Lana’s clear, pristine vocals are what carry the song, supported by a simple guitar and piano. Extra emotion comes from the subtle clarinet and swelling strings that complement Lana throughout the song. “Terrence Loves You” is a simple but emotional song, and already a fan favorite. 

“God Knows I Tried” –  Crickets and guitar picking introduce the song. Lana name drops “Hotel California,” and “God Knows I Tried” does have a rather western sound. It sounds like a hot, open landscape in which Lana is left with nothing but her pride. She may not have anyone else’s approval, but God knows what she went through.  Lana quotes the bible with exclamations of “let there be light,” a plea for something better in her life. The music is simple in comparison with the lyrics and vocals on this track. 

“High By The Beach” – The first single from the album debuted in late August. “High By The Beach” has less of the cinematic, beautiful strings and more of a muddy trap sound. The blippy chorus is relaxed in spite of Lana’s underlying hints of ill temper. She’s clearly ready to move on and sway to a song like this in the club. Lana’s intentions are clear when she ends the song with a spoken recitation: “Everyone can start again, not through love, but through revenge.” 

“Freak” – After “High By The Beach,” “Freak” continues the slow marshy sound. There are a lot of sounds hovering in the background, and not just the orchestra of strings. “Freak” seems to move in slow motion, reflecting the slow dancing Lana frequently mentions during the song. Lana’s vocals are slow and almost manic, and it’s clear why fans are already attracted to “Freak.”  

“Art Deco” – “Art Deco” has a similarly slow, muddy mood, but there’s something more reflective going on. Lana sings of a queen prowling at night, but she’s not mean – she’s just born to be seen. It sounds like a reference to Born To Die track “Carmen.” It’s a dark, murky song that fans have already cited as a favorite. “Art Deco” is the last of the trio of muddy, slow tracks on Honeymoon

“Burnt Norton (Interlude)” – This song was written by T.S. Eliot, but Lana’s version here cuts it to only a minute in length. “Burnt Norton (Interlude)” is a short and simplistic track carried by Lana’s spoken poetry a she talks about the abstraction of time. Though it is easily the shortest track on Honeymoon, it is an entrancing interruption that the record needed. 

“Religion” – This is the most uptempo song on Honeymoon so far, making a welcome change from the weighty calm of the first half of the album. The song is simpler, but Lana’s high note in the chorus keeps your interest. The bridge adds in melodic synths over the pounding drums, before the music backs away for a stripped chorus. “Religion” is a song that gets better with each listen. 

“Salvatore” – The best song on Honeymoon is “Salvatore,” which BBC Radio 1 knowingly premiered on September 15th. It starts with a beautiful violin and echoes of laughter, setting the tone. “Salvatore” builds up into a sweeping chorus, a serenade of “ahhh” and “ladadadada” interspersed with phrases in Italian. It’s an amorous, grand song that paints European scenes of old-time, other-wordly beauty. “Salvatore” is a sultry lullaby from a picture that mesmerizes to the last note. 

“The Blackest Day” – This track starts off unassuming – perhaps because the listener is still caught up in the magic that is “Salvatore” – but by the chorus “The Blackest Day” will have your full attention. The chorus takes an unexpected turn as Lana laments about tragic loss in a minor key. Lana shows off her lower register as she says she’s going “deeper and deeper, harder and harder.” Though this sounds like a sad breakup song, it’s actually one of the more uptempo tracks on Honeymoon. The instrumentation is fuller, and recalls Born To Die more clearly than any new song has since 2012. “The Blackest Day” is a dynamic song, and a highlight on the album. 

“24” – “24” starts with a minimalist, smooth sound, carried by sweeping drums. But the energy rises as  Spanish sounding percussion and a Latin groove come in for the pre-chorus. The chorus gets bigger, and Lana hums with the horns as it fades. The second verse returns to the jazzy, sultry sound before transitioning back to that big, old movie styled chorus. Like “The Blackest Day,” “24” sounds a lot like Born To Die because of the fuller sound and dynamic changes. It’s sultry and cinematic, a timeless sounding song that could have originated in the ’60s. 

“Swan Song” – Honeymoon comes to a close on “Swan Song,” the last original, Lana-penned track on the album. It continues the cinematic, lush sound that Lana has by now mastered. She sings about having already accomplished her goals, and now just wanting to be free. She’d be willing to end her singing career for some freedom with her love. Hopefully this is not foretelling anything just yet – it’s too soon for Lana’s actual “Swan Song.” Nonetheless, it is a perfect penultimate close to the arch of Honeymoon

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Honeymoon ends with a cover of Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” It starts with a fun organ sound and music box keys, but is offset by cinematic orchestration. Lana earnestly means the sentiment in the lyrics. She’s just human, and no matter what she says or does, let her good intentions always be known. And thus Honeymoon reaches its ending. 


Honeymoon Highlights: “Salvatore,” “The Blackest Day,” “24,” “Music To Watch Boys To,” “Religion”

You can buy Honeymoon on iTunes now.

Lana Del Rey Honeymoon Album Cover


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