A “SINGLE GOING STEADY” COLUMN
FORGETTABLE AND LIMPID, BUT PROBABLY to be expected from one of America’s self-proclaimed pop “sweethearts.” Written in response to another spate of American mass shootings and dashed off so quickly as to reach a byline of her own choosing, “Looking for America” almost warrants the sickest of jokes: Why the rush when another one is just around the corner?
It murmurs and aspires to the hymnal, which of course is page one of the Great American Songbook. The mix is so low that your ears can’t immediately perceive whether the muted accompaniment is an electric guitar or bass or piano. The lyrics are so banal that not one line entices you into further contemplation. Lana Del Rey’s attempt to balance the shock and horror of mass killings with both the quotidian nature of daily life and the utopian aspirational need to live in a better society just does not gel. Taken at her usual druggy pace all that is offered here is fatigue, the mumbling of a bored, vapid young woman. Which is very fitting with the image Del Rey often portrays.
It may be unfair but compare this trifle to Joni Mitchell’s far superior masterpiece, “Big Yellow Taxi.” Yes, she wrote about a different subject. Ecological/environmental disaster is devastating in another way. Still incredibly topical, of course, but not as immediately frightening. Yet consider how it zigs and zags between the personal and the universal, about something just affecting the narrator and something that will affect everyone including the narrator, and then how she brilliantly intersperses the two. Listen once and hear how individual lines resonate in your memory long after she repeats them, especially the famous “got ‘till it’s gone” refrain. Despite the buoyant, hard-strumming rhythm, which veers close to calypso; a joyous music not noted for solemnity, the narrative attains gravitas. She probably wasn’t even trying to write a “Serious Song,” yet, perversely, achieved it.
I actually like Del Rey: her music, her image, her arch artificiality. She has been a brilliant pop star for most of the 21st Century. I do think she’s more than just an agent provocateur, that she is talented. Even fun. But she has yet to demonstrate any profundity and she’s been kicking around now for a solid decade. An artist has every right to explore new or unexpected terrain. Good for her. But the results are not rewarding here and now.