Diamonds in the Dust: Lana Del Rey gets 'high on the beach' with Cass Elliot and Mazzy Star

Diamonds in the Dust is a weekly study of the criminally neglected; songs, albums and entire genres swept under the rug by a lack of media attention, misunderstandings or simply being too ahead of its time.

Lana Del Rey’s supposed “brilliance” is lost on me. Not a single song, interview or retro outfit of hers has ever struck a major chord. Something about her comes across as unauthentic and forced.

But all prejudices aside, I gave her another chance this week and found myself in a bizarre situation.

On a whim, I popped into my local record store and sheepishly purchased a copy of her fourth LP “Honeymoon.” Embarrassed and confused, I could feel the non-existent stares of judgment as I trudged my way from the cash register to my car, gripping tight the vision sealing bag I unnecessarily requested for a measly CD. No one could know the sin I had just committed.

After getting home, safe from any wandering eyes, I slapped “Honeymoon” on and was slapped right back by an enthralling symphony of sweeping strings cooed beneath the tender crooning of Del Rey’s voice. My eyes fluttered and shut as I was moved peacefully to sleep by her singing.

Typically, being put to bed by an album isn't ideal, but “Honeymoon” put me under with a grace and serenity I rarely experience. A woman’s singing is often ethereal, but the peace I felt reminded me of the first time I heard Hope Sandoval’s voice on Mazzy Star’s album “So Tonight That I Might See.”

Del Rey and Sandoval work on opposite musical spectrums making this an unlikely match-up. Both artists convey a sort of teenage angst, but Del Rey’s elaborate productions stray far from Sandoval’s stripped down acoustic psychedelia.

Regardless, Mazzy Star’s “Into Dust” beckons a Del Rey cover version that could easily transcend the original. Sandoval’s melancholic whispers echo the lavish mourning Del Rey imbued “Honeymoon” with. Even Mazzy Star’s breakout hit “Fade Into You” could’ve found a place within the ranks of Del Rey’s third outing “Ultraviolence.”

If you find yourself enjoying Del Rey’s descent into the darker side of pop, then Mazzy Star will likely please. This is music to close your shades and reflect on failed relationships.

Much of Del Rey’s persona seems plucked straight out of The Mamas & the Papa’s “California Dreamin’.” When you consider her persistent references to the West Coast, getting "high on the beach" and the fact that she’s actually from New York, the whole “dreamin’” aspect of her music sort of comes to fruition.

The Mamas & the Papas is famous for its overblown vocal harmonies and distinction as a group. No single member was particularly famous outside the band, so after looking past her obvious California fantasy, Del Rey’s connection could be vague — that is until you take a look at Cass Elliot.

Hardly remembered for her solo work, Elliot’s powerhouse voice shuttered her band mates’ singing, but has ultimately been overshadowed by their output as a group. Once separated however, her immense talent is a frenetic force that’s been shamefully forgotten.

Whether she knows it or not, Del Rey’s haunting performance on tracks like “God Knows I Tried” and “Terrence Loves You” feel possessed by the apparition of Elliot’s hair-raising “The Room Nobody Lives In.” The forlorn boy troubles of Elliot’s “He’s a Runner” practically defines most of Del Rey’s work and there’s no denying the flowing strings of “Ain’t Nobody Else Like You” as a precursor to much of what “Honeymoon” tries to modernize.

Elliot never released what I would consider a “great” album although each has its own abundance of standout tracks. Think about taking a look at her excellent retrospective “The Complete Cass Elliot Solo Collection 1968-71” for a near-perfect rundown of the Mama’s window-shaking voice and career.

Del Rey has embodied an obsession with art-deco, Jackie Onassis and California beach cruising. Her sumptuous voice on “Honeymoon” drips with the grand balladry of a James Bond intro while mystifying with a drug-laced sexual tension.

It’s certainly nothing I haven’t heard before, but at least she does her influences well. I only wonder when the youthful abandon in her lackluster lyrics will lose its gloss. Del Rey seems inherently stuck in the ghosts of her own past, writing music for the moodier girls at your high school. I know there’s a truly great album in her somewhere, she just needs to find herself first. 

I guess turning 30 must be hard. 

Related Links:

Diamonds in the Dust: Ty Segall is the psychedelic reincarnate the world needs

Diamonds in the Dust: Arcade Fire is just deconstructed disco, Tobias Jesso Jr. is a Paul McCartney imitator


Contact the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow  @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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