For half a decade, Lana Del Rey has been working on a fully realized fantasy for her listeners. The extravagance and excess ambition of Born to Die fed directly into the selfishness and moodiness of Ultraviolence, which led to the simultaneously sedated and anxious Honeymoon. 2017’s Lust for Life felt like a clear departure from the iterative sad-girl personas Del Rey donned every year or two. A smile and a few deliberate, happy (by her standards) songs were all it took. What Lust for Life really meant, though, was that Del Rey had fulfilled some sort of deep creative niche for herself. There was no longer a need to languish in that dangerous living-fast-and-dying-pretty feeling that defined some of her classics: “Ride,” “West Coast,” “Florida Kilos” and “Honeymoon,” for example. Instead, Del Rey cultivated an inner strength and purpose. Songs like “High by the Beach” exemplify the cool self-assuredness that has developed, while “Love” and new track “Mariners Apartment Complex” demonstrate her willingness to share her strength. Del Rey recently announced her fifth major-label record Norman Fucking Rockwell, due out in 2019, and monolithic new single “Venice Bitch” pushes Del Rey’s evolution even further forward.

“Venice Bitch” opens with verses that have become increasingly abbreviated as Del Rey’s lyrical language has evolved: “Fear fun, fear love, / Fresh out of fucks, forever.” It’s a couplet that is almost comic in its alliteration and semi-serious usage of “fresh out of fucks.” The words wouldn’t make sense coming from the mouth of anyone else. The rest of the first few minutes feel like a traditional Lana love song, as she begs “Oh God, miss you on my lips” and “One dream, one life, one lover,” but the song patiently opens into a 9’36’’ expanse of pining and cooing for love. An anxious, warbling synth steals the melody from the fingerpicked guitar in the beginning, followed by guitar and drum feedback, until Del Rey asserts herself over the track once more, repeating “Crimson and clover, honey” and “Over and over, honey.” The short lines are not only a reference to the 1968 song “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells, but also another demonstration of Del Rey’s ability to weave the perfect cultural reference into her work. Over the years, Del Rey has created an impressive musical vocabulary, at once vintage and totally her own, that has commanded the attention of millions for a few years. “Venice Bitch” is an absolute flex of a single that proves that Del Rey knows exactly what she’s doing — and that she isn’t doing it for anybody but herself.

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