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Album Review

Leave it to the reigning alt-pop princess of noir, Lana Del Rey, to take one of life's most joyous moments—a honeymoon—and drain the brightness right out of it.

Del Rey's Honeymoon shimmers and simmers in her trademark style, a lush, brooding, melancholy fatalism that sounds like some kind of retro soundtrack to a lost James Bond movie from about 1968. Haunting, cinematic strings and horns provide the canvas for mournful vignettes of longing and love and life gone tragically off the rails.

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Album closer and 1964 Nina Simone remake "Don't Let Me Be Understood" delivers a plea for understanding to a man … and perhaps the singer's critics, too. Lana sings, "But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood/ … I'm just human/Don't you know I have faults like anyone?/ … I try so hard."

Some (optimistic) fans will hear "Art Deco" critiquing an insecure woman's habit of picking up men on the dance floor ("You put your life out on the line/You're crazy all the time/ … You're looking to score/When they all say hello"). "The Blackest Day" contains this honest (if bleak) connection of bad choices to grim consequences: "Looking for love/In all the wrong places/ … Ever since my baby went away/It's been the blackest day, it's been the blackest day/ … I'm on my own again." "24" warns wisely, "If you lie down with dogs, then you'll get fleas/Be careful of the company you keep."

"God Knows I Tried" could be heard as one of the album's few earnest, vulnerable moments as Lana Del Rey makes her way through a litany of laments: "God knows I live/God knows I died/God knows I begged/Begged, borrowed and cried/God knows I loved/God knows I lied/God knows I lost/God gave me life/God knows I tried/ … So let there be light/Let there be light/Light up my life/Light up my life." Then again …

Objectionable Content

… the past tense nature of the song's titular refrain, "God knows I tried," could also be interpreted as a suicide note of sorts as Del Rey ultimately gives up on everything. And it's equally possible to interpret her spiritual-sounding, God-directed list of struggles as sarcastic mockery.

A wedding and the honeymoon that follows should be cause for celebration, but there's seemingly little to applaud for the newlyweds on "Honeymoon." Del Rey sings of a woman who knows she's with a volatile, unstable partner ("We both know the history of violence that surrounds you/ … There are guns ablaze around you"). And she brags about jettisoning society's mores ("We make the rules"). She also sings suggestively, "There are roses in between my thighs and fire that surrounds you." "Freak" also includes sexual innuendo ("My hot love's full of fire") and tells a would-be paramour, "Come to California/Be a freak like me, too." Never mind that this loner seems to have emotional-intimacy issues (as all of Del Rey's guys do).

"Music to Watch Boys By" finds Lana admitting, "I've been sent to destroy." So is it any wonder that love for her seems little more than a lie, one she doesn't much care about anyway? She sings, "I know what only the girls know/Lies can buy eternity/ … Nothing gold can stay/Like love or lemonade/Or sun or summer days/It's all a game to me anyway."

More of the same sorts of sentiments fill "Terrence Loves You." "But you are who you are," Del Rey tells another lover in another dysfunctional relationship. "I won't change you for anything/I'll let you be bad." And after he apparently leaves her, she sings about getting drunk when she hears his favorite songs. "High by the Beach" narrates still another bad romance, one in which Del Rey denounces an ex as a "bad m-----f---er," after which she spits, "The truth is I never/Bought into your bulls---." In his absence, she sings, "All I wanna do is get high by the beach." The song concludes darkly, "Everyone can start again/Not through love but through revenge/Through the fire, we're born again/Peace by vengeance/Brings the end." (The video for this song has Del Rey shooting down her former beau's helicopter with a futuristic rocket launcher.)

"Burnt Norton (Interlude)" is chock-full of philosophical gobbledygook about time. It seems to take a pessimistic stance regarding any possibility of redemption ("If all time is eternally present/All time is unredeemable/What might have been is an abstraction/Remaining a perpetual possibility"). "Religion" frames Del Rey's ardor for a man in spiritual and slyly sexual terms ("'Cause you're my religion, you're how I'm living/ … When I'm down on my knees, you're how I pray/Hallelujah, I need your love").

Summary Advisory

"Honeymoon" begins with a not-so-subtly cloaked message to those who would criticize Lana Del Rey's carefully cultivated coolness: "We both know that it's not fashionable to love me." Responding to her haters, the studiously detached Del Rey wraps herself in meta, commenting on critical comments that have surrounded her drama-queen persona since her career's inception.

In his Honeymoon write-up, New York Times reviewer Jon Caramanica says, "She's been angry, and then bored of being angry, but now she's just bored. … And so after four years in the limelight, here lounges Ms. Del Rey, immune to the gravitational pull of the discourse about her. Once a careful invention, she is now glassy-eyed and glassy-voiced, too cool to care."

Caramanica adds, "She's not an ornate singer, but she achieves a great deal with only the many shades of exhaustion."

Yes, the many shades of exhaustion.

That's an apt summary of the weary emptiness brought on by Lana Del Rey's worldview. "It's all a game to me anyway," she brags breezily. But it's not really. Not for her. And not for those who listen to and identify with her fractured, injured and nihilistic take on life and romance.

Plot Summary

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Debuted at No. 2.

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September 18, 2015

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Adam R. Holz

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