To pass the agonising wait for her follow-up to last year’s strident and heartbreaking ‘Honeymoon’, here’s a look back at Lana Del Rey’s most alluring lyrics, pondering what they might mean…
“Tell me all the things you want to do/I heard that you like the bad girls/Honey, is that true? It’s better than I even knew/They say that the world was built for two/Only worth living if somebody is loving you/Baby, now you do.”
This beautiful end-of-the-world heartbreaker was the first the world heard of Lana Del Rey – and what an introduction it was. Sweet with a subtle darkness, it was made a mega star of the New Yorker, and came packed full of the same Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road inspired explorations of romance amid the cooped-up hysteria of picket fence America.
Born To Die
“Come and take a walk on the wild side/Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain/You like your girls insane.”
Women doomed by romance are a constant theme of Del Rey’s songs: fragile but resilient characters seemingly unable to dodge their fate, trapped in a life of sorrow by their all-consuming love for the wrong man. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the title track of her second album, especially on this hard-hitting line that shows the visceral (and slightly soggy) extent of her passion.
Off To The Races
“My old man is a tough man/But he’s got a soul as sweet as blood red jam/And he shows me, he knows me, every inch of my tar black soul.”
In this typically gothic tale of faded glamour, Lana has met another bad man, but that’s a good thing. Only a man as bad as this could understand, and forgive her colourful “Las Vegas past.” Her use of “blood red jam” is further evidence of what Lana does best in her lyrics: take a wholesome symbol of cutesy US suburban bliss and imbue it with a subtle, simmering, almost murderous darkness.
“Everything I want I have/Money, notoriety and rivieras/I even think I found God/In the flash bulbs of the pretty cameras.”
With reference to the “dark side of the American dream”, Lana condenses the world she’s created for herself – or the haunted small-town-diner waitress character she pretends to be – into a four-minute, David Lynch-esque torch song here.
“Don’t you know? It’s you that I adore/Though I make the boys fall like dominoes.”
Nowhere is Del Rey’s early description of herself as the gangster Nancy Sinatra more accurate than here, as she toys with imagery of Nabokov’s precociously sexual pre-teen and brags that she knows what the boys want, but unbelievably insists she is going to play their game. No one treads the line between seductive and threatening better.
“He used to call me DN/That stood for Deadly Nightshade/Cause I was filled with poison/But blessed with beauty and rage.”
Del Rey’s songs have always dabbled in toxic relationships, with her songs’ heroines seem hopelessly drawn to dangerous, no-good men. Here she spins a troubling tale around lush orchestral sounds, about being hit and it feeling “like a kiss”, still in love with her cowardly abuser. The clash of “beauty and rage” is
Shades Of Cool
“My baby lives in shades of blue/Blue eyes and jazz and attitude.”
Another song, another distant, unchangeable man that Del Rey can’t stop herself from loving. But he does live in California, drives a Chevy Malibu and ultimately loves her back, so who can blame her?
“I can see my baby swinging/His Parliament’s on fire and his hands are up/On the balcony and I’m singing/Ooh baby, Ooh baby, I’m in love.”
Over assisting Black Key Dan Auerbach’s sultry guitar, Del Rey purrs about, you’ve guessed it, her baby standing on a balcony, staring off into the distance while puffing on a ciggie. It’s like an Athena poster come to life.
“Being a mistress on the side/It might not appeal to fools like you/Creeping around on the side/Would not be something you would do/But, you haven’t seen my man.”
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should, and Lana knows that. Still, this knowledge doesn’t stop her cheating with other women’s men here. She hates herself for it, but can’t stop the cycle. Powerful and complex.
“White lines, pretty daddy, go skiing/You snort it like a champ, like the winter we’re not in”
A love letter to cocaine, inspired by a documentary on the American state that traffics more of it than any other. The central character is so out of it she doesn’t care if she goes to prison for her crimes. With her baby and some more white lines by her side, “prison isn’t nothing” she sings.