Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
“I’ve been tidying around in my fucking nightgown
24/7 Sylvia Plath,
Writing in blood on the walls
‘Cause the ink in my pen don’t work on my notepad
Don’t ask if I’m happy—you know that I’m not,
But at best I can say I’m not sad
‘Cause hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have”
As the title suggests, Lana del Rey is feeling restive, a bit restless. Nobody has ever mistaken her for a vacuous pop diva, but it’s clear now that she wants to expand the dark core of her lush, rich songs. In addition to the trademark tonal depth, she has added a piano that is often slightly jarring, bringing an element of emotional uncertainty to the quicksands of the heart where her music lives.
The result is at once powerful, sad, defiant, and oddly hopeful. The songs deal with want, and loss, and often unsatisfying encounters with sometimes toxic lovers, a theme that infuriates listeners who either want to hear “Walk Like an Egyptian,” or perhaps, “[Walk] Like a Virgin.”
I often think of Agnes Obel when listening to del Rey, and vice-versa, and I think I know why. Obel can hit four different piano keys over the course of thirty seconds and make it sound like the Philharmonic. Del Rey can bring a tonal depth and variety that would make Phil Spector groan, creating the impression of a kitten mewling for help in a snowstorm. Both have the ability to mix the simple and the sophisticated in such a seamless manner that it’s hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.
For someone walking a unique path with torch songs for the 21st century, del Rey has an amazing number of shout-outs to pop culture. In “Bartender,” she sings, “But sometimes girls just want to have fun, But poetry inside of me is warm like a gun.” Interesting way of saying she experiences two types of happiness at once.
While there aren’t any top-of-the-pops platter splatters in there, there are several songs that will haunt the listener: “Bartender,” “Venice Bitch” and “California” are good examples of a very strong track list. Did I mention Sublime? No, the group. She does a cover on the album, saving her best for last, in the ethereal and heart-rending “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have—But I have it.” Some of the lyrics to this piece are quoted at the beginning of this review. And really, how can anyone hear – “24/7 Sylvia Plath, writing in blood on the walls ‘cause the ink in my pen don’t work on my notepad” – and not remember it for years?
This record is among del Rey’s best, which is actually hard to quantify, since she is so consistently excellent. Nonetheless, the listener should have a comfortable chair, a good set of earphones, and a much-loved beverage when they sit down with NFR. Perhaps something dark and rich, like a fine coffee or an excellent brandy. Something that reflects her music.
Bryan Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Canada and raised in London. He has lived in the Mount Shasta area since 1990, which he regards as the finest place on earth. Jamieson has spent the past 25 years as a graphic layout technician, web designer and writer, with over a thousand essays, a dozen short stories, and two novels – Ice Fall and Snow Fall – to his credit. In addition to his wife of 30-plus years, he normally lives with a dog and several cats, none of whom are impressed by him. Reach him through The Electric Review.