Welcome to Junk Mail, where a few Music Times staffers email back-and-forth about each week's biggest release throughout the work day. This week, Carolyn Menyes, Ryan Middleton, Johny Blue and Lindsay Haddox chat about Lana Del Rey's new album, Honeymoon.
Carolyn Menyes: It is officially fall today, and I feel very chill and at home sipping on some pumpkin spice coffee and listening to Lana Del Rey's new album Honeymoon. (That may be the most #basic sentence I ever type.)
Just a little over a year after releasing her sophomore album Ultraviolence, Del Rey takes us back to the world of glamorous, dangerous and lovelorn Hollywood on this new album. This album is everything we've come to expect from Del Rey. It's layered with tons of texture, heavily pulling from Phil Spector's wall of noise. It has all those Tumblr-ready lyrics about drugs, boys and dreams of another life. It's pretty and easy listening.
But, I don't know; I wonder if we really needed this album... It's just the same Del Rey album, released again and so quickly. What are your initial thoughts?
Lindsay Haddox: I've been a fan of Lana Del Rey's for quite some time now and Born to Die: Paradise Edition is one of my favorite albums. Since she waited so long between her Born to Die album and Ultraviolence I was quite surprised that she had an album ready for release so soon after her sophomore record. Needless, to say I was very excited about a new Del Rey album. After listening to the whole album, I feel that there are songs on it that are absolutely brilliant and I love and then there are some songs that I would say kind of make me want to fall asleep.
It's not that they are bad, but this relates back to what Carolyn said, did we really need another new album? A part of me feels that she could have done a special edition of Ultraviolence and added this on, or simply just released an EP. Del Rey sounds absolutely beautiful and the music is great, but releasing a whole LP seems somewhat unnecessary. So John, what do you think?
Johny Blue: I agree Lindsay, Born To Die was brilliant and still gets some replays from me. However I did skip out on Ultraviolence (despite being complete obsessed with "West Coast"). Why? Well while I love an artist that lives in their own world, it seems the limits of Lana's creativity have narrowed significantly. I can't help but feel like Lana has sailed this dreary-pop boat all the way to shore and maybe needs to get off. *Cues "High By The Beach."*
Now I'm by no means saying it's a bad album. Honeymoon is packed to the brim with lush production, edgy lyrics and some of Lana's best vocals to date. She soars over record opener and title track "Honeymoon" with the poise of a Barbra Streisand and the grit of a Fiona Apple. Her signature pouty vocals are front and center on the chorus of "Music To Watch Boys To" and "Art Deco." The blueprint of what made her debut so awesome is very much alive and well, but somewhere around the third song I got lost. Anyone else have trouble navigating this album?
Ryan Middleton: Echoing Carolyn's initial point, it is fall, the flannels are filling the office and it is a rough Monday with my fantasy teams getting trounced and a hyperextended elbow topping off my Sunday.
Lana's soothing, dreamy voice is there for me.
But what you all are saying. It is pretty surprising that she decided to break the mold in releasing a brand new album only one year after a previous one. She may just love writing and releasing music that music versus touring, which is where the delay in music releases often comes in, but still the quick turn around is pretty surprising from Ultraviolence to Honeymoon.
The formula remains the same with her: well-written lyrics, lush and classic sounding production and distant vocals.
Maybe the question of whether or not we NEED this album isn't the best, just like do you NEED the soft ice cream Lana discusses in "Salvatore," but rather do we WANT it?
CM: I'm glad that you guys all seemed to get my point, and it really boils down to what you said, John. So many of these songs could have fit on Born to Die or Ultraviolence. I have no problem with an artist holding on to a distinct sound, but Del Rey continues to sound as though she has no growth. There's the same ennui here, the same ethereal vocals, the same booming production. What is she doing here that she hasn't before?
For an artist, this is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't things. If Del Rey had gone more mainstream pop here or pulled in R&B, she would have gotten slammed by critics and isolated her fans. But, here I am, a critic, getting sick of the same ol' Hollywood schtick. The album cover has her on a Star Line tour, for godsake.
I will say there's a little more play on production in here. The voice layering technique she uses, especially in promo tracks "Music To Watch Boys To" and "High by the Beach" is interesting. I've heard this from her before but not so amplified.
Lindsay, you're a fan. Do you feel like this is all her fans want? Is the layering technique on "High by the Beach" and "Music To Watch Boys To" enough to make us want this album?
LH: As a fan, and a really big fan at that, I am a bit disappointed. I feel that she could have done so much more with this album. Maybe a bit more time instead of rushing to get another record out to fans. I mean just because you take some time to make something doesn't mean you'll lose fans, but maybe she feels that way. I am a huge fan of "Music To Watch Boys To" and maybe wish she would have done more songs like this throughout the album. Agreeing with Carolyn, there is more play on production here, but in general Del Rey always has done that well.
I will say I am a huge fan of the song "Freak," but this song is along the lines of "Music To Watch Boys To," which leads me back to what I said earlier which is that this is the path she should have taken for this album. I mean, Del Rey is great at making the music she wants to make -- there is no doubt about that. However, a part of me wishes she would have just put out an EP not a whole album because there are a lot of songs on this album that just don't cut it for me and I think she could really do better. It's as if there is no climatic point in this album, the songs just interweave into one another.
JB: As any hardcore fan would agree, a new album from your favorite artist is always welcomed no matter how soon after the last one it arrives. Lana's core fans are probably going to gobble this right up and think nothing about the time frame or overall quality of it. As for everyone else, I guess we can take it or leave it. Like Lindsay I too am little let down, but considering that my favorite Lana records are the edgier "Off To The Races" and "Lolita," clearly she didn't make this album for MY enjoyment. I will say that if paired with the right visuals I might actually grow to like it. Maybe another Tropico?
RM: You took the words right out of my mouth John. This is an album for the fans, not for the mainstream audience (though Polydor would like me to be wrong). It was released too soon to fully take advantage of the dreadfully slow major label promo machine for Ultraviolence and then Honeymoon shortly thereafter.
She has never been one to crank out hits, though "Summertime Sadness" was everywhere for too long, but this seems especially devoid of radio friendly tunes beyond "High By The Beach." Maybe "Art Deco" could be another?
The LP is at times a little too sleepy, but that does make it flow quite seamlessly thematically and sonically from start to finish.
CM: I sort of hate the phrase "this album is for the fans," because, like duh it's for the fans. Del Rey is a niche-y artist and she's staying in that niche. Her lone top 10 single came courtesy of a remix, though I do remember "Video Games" getting radio play back when it was released. It, and Del Rey, bored me then and I'm still a little bored now, though I appreciate what she's trying to do.
Taking away from the question of if this is even an attempt to do something different or an attempt at a mainstream album (which it is definitely not either of those things), let's look at Honeymoon on its own merits and a continuation of Del Rey's discography.
I think this album is really top-heavy, despite flowing well as you pointed out, Ryan. Maybe it's just because I'm familiar with the promo tracks, but after "Art Deco," this record lost me. You have the beautiful, layered production but what do you get from the second half of this album? OOO... she spoke Italian in "Salvatore." That's supposed to make this song interesting? Without double-checking the tracklisting, it's the only song I can even remember. (So maybe it succeeds.)
Meanwhile, in the universe of Del Rey, you have truly pretty music at the top of this record. "Terrence Loves You" is the sort of perfect dream sequence song, and we've already talked the merits of "High by the Beach" and such to death.
Am I alone in this? What's even worth playing after track No. 7, if anything?
LH: Carolyn you are not alone. I know that the album is called Honeymoon, but wow, do I wish she did not open with that song because I get tired listening to that song alone. I feel that songs 2-7 are the only songs really worth listening to. "The Blackest Day" is put together pretty well though too. I like the heaviness in "The Blackest Day," but that's the only song that catches my ear after "Art Deco," and I think that is because it kind of sounds like older Lana Del Rey.
After thinking about it, I feel like there must have been pressure from her label to put new music out and she just through a ton of stuff she was working on together. That's how this album feels to me, like there is so much more but it was unfinished. There is a story somewhere here, but it gets lost in all the instrumentals and the blandness of this album. There are songs on this album that would have been beautiful together without all the blah in between, which is where I bring up again maybe she should have just released an EP not something this long.
As they were saying earlier, she could have done a Tropico type thing if she had only stuck to a few songs that flowed well with one another.
JB: So then it's established, this is the Coke Zero equivalent to her past efforts. All the components of what make her such a fascinating artist are present, but it's just bland and tasteless. It feels rushed, it's boring and unnecessary. Maybe fans will like it, but overall this will probably go down as a redundant release. However, given Lana's track record with soundtracks and remixes, if paired with the right movie or remixed by the right DJ any of these snoozers could easily gain new life. "Summertime Sadness" wasn't a standout to me until its glorious make-over and "Young and Beautiful" probably wouldn't have been as dazzling without The Great Gatsby serving as its backdrop.
RM: Part of the problem is that it is so seamless that is flows too well and becomes one whole sound. The album was done with an incredibly small team of Lana, Rick Nowels and Kieren Menzies. Maybe they needed to get some outside opinions to add a different perspective, but that holistic, heavily treated and reverbed sound from start to finish appeared to be the mission.
Once you get past "Art Deco," "Salvatore" throws in a wrinkle with some of the oddball lyrics about soft ice cream (mmmmmmmmm), Medellin, which after watching Narcos makes me think about that and some Italian. "The Blackest Day" could be the most personal track on the album describing stages of grief all in one track.
Being the resident electronic music guy on staff, I am both intrigued and dreading to see which tracks become the hot remixed songs from the album and how long it takes for every SoundCloud producer to ruin the another Lana album.
CM: I'm not sure if this was a label thing or a Lana Del Rey vanity project. I remember reading an interview of hers where she said she still had a brust of creativity after releasing Ultraviolence, so she rode it into this album, continually recording. This is where a break or another voice in the room could have been useful. Del Rey was most interesting before when she worked with Dan Auerbach on "West Coast," so why keep this production so closed?
I love your idea of cropping this album from "Music to Watch Boys To" to "Art Deco" and making it an EP. That way, Del Rey has time to develop as an artist and a person but fans can be satisfied with jam-packed, quality and interesting music.
Alright -- Del Rey dream collabs? What producers could have made this album better? I vote Kanye West, for some reason. Don't ask me why, but I think they could do something odd yet #onbrand together.
LH: Took the words right out of my mouth. With more time Del Rey could have developed an amazing album and had more people to work on it with her and help out. I am all for artists getting full creative control, but there are times someone being there helps. Also Ryan, I agree about the remixes that will stem from this album, some are probably already being made if not already done. I honestly wasn't even that much of a fan of the "Summertime Sadness" one but if that helps her get radio play, so be it.
Maybe she will cut this album down and do a fun short film like Tropico, one can only dream because that was pure magic in my eyes.
When I think of a dream collab, well Kanye would definitely be sick, but she and Lorde would kill it. Both dark and have incredible writing skills, I can see it now...
JB: I think the all mighty Yeezus is too distracted these days to swoop in and save Lana. However Kanye offspring Travi$ Scott could give her the edge she needs. I'd love to see Lana in the hands of Jamie XX or Noah "40" Shebib. People who are experienced with moody vocalist but know how to still give records dynamics, because that's what Honeymoon lacked. I don't think her and Lorde would mesh, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to subject matter.
Either way, we all seem to agree that this album needed some external influences. She clearly locked herself into a sound and has no more room to grow at this rate.
RM: I agree Scott or more likely a Jamie xx would be a better fit for Lana to keep the dark moodiness in her music where she wants it to be. Possibly even a Diplo just to blow things up.
As was previously mentioned, this was recorded almost immediately after Ultraviolence, so it doesn't seem all that far-fetched as to why it would be so similar. Now she just needs some time to tour, maybe a world tour to see some places (hopefully cheery) and gather inspiration from Thailand, South Africa, Brazil, Sweden, Australia and bring it all together for something refreshing.
JB: A few years ago, Lana was the latest in a line of genre bending darlings adored by critics and fans alike. Now she seems overrated and out of touch. Could be because the album was rushed, or maybe she just feels like this is what people want from her. While I'm happy to see she's got her sound down to a science maybe it's time to apply a new formula, or let someone else handle the experimenting for a bit. In a time where we are so quick to crucify people for selling out, maybe it's time to embrace when acts venture outside of their comfort zone. Maybe said "zone" is a lot smaller than we think. *Le Sigh* Bring on those remixes. Anyone have Kygo's number??
CM: Lana Del Rey could have used some editors on Honeymoon -- not because the album is chaotic or misguided but just because it's not all necessary. Tracks like "High by the Beach" and "Terrence Loves You" show the heights she can reach, so when mixed with some cuts at the end of this record, well, everything else pales in comparison. An EP is all we needed, and an LP is what we got.
LH: I wish this wasn't as rushed, but I do not think this album will destroy her career. I think if anything this was a stepping stone for her career and now we can hype up her next album and hopefully it will be amazing. For now, we can pick and choose songs we like to listen to and also hope she makes another cool short film with this. I will continue to be a fan of hers and enjoy the music she has blessed me with for the time being. I do, however, wish she would be open to the idea of experimenting with her music instead of keeping the same sound. She is so talented and although this album might not be memorable Lana Del Rey isn't going anywhere.
RM: Lana Del Rey's third album in four years continues on the same path that she has been following for the past two albums in Ultraviolence and Born To Die.
Lana has gone from chic, hipster blog darling to a bonafide superstar who has been able to keep her air of cool and uniqueness all along. However that formula has run that course with new material. There are some fun and interesting moments on Honeymoon, from the David Bowie reference in "Terence Loves You" to the random Italian in "Salvatore." It was a pretty seamless album, but got a little bland beyond a few standouts like "High By The Beach" and "Art Decor."
Her next move will be interesting to see if she sticks with this formula or goes with something totally different.