Don’t tell Tove Lo…
Brad Shoup: I mean, if that’s what it takes. This sounds like an album’s final cut, something designed to recede. A one-finger melody pips in the chorus, like a goofy tropical bird; a bashful G-funk whine tries to make things hazier at the end. It’s doomy, but whose doom?
Dorian Sinclair: I heard the title of “High By the Beach” long before I heard the song itself, and while I can’t say what I expected, it certainly wasn’t a handful of tricks right out of retro horror movies — but that’s what the backtracked sighing, descending minor-key chorus, and of course that electric organ all immediately brought to mind. It’s a natural progression of her aesthetic though, fascinated as she seems to be by the darker elements of American nostalgia. Her signature vocal lassitude works well on the chorus but I find myself wishing the verses were delivered with more bite, and I’m docking a point because of how awkwardly “all I wanted to do was get high by the beach” scans.
Alfred Soto: Thick, colorful, and thorny, like bougainvillea branches straddling in a fence. Your tolerance for this breathy conceit depends on affection for the suspended pleasure in Del Rey’s voice and whether it’s possible to get high on a beach without serious dehydration.
Thomas Inskeep: She’s officially become a caricature of herself: “dreamy” vocals, torpid tempos, and bullshit lyrics are all she’s trafficking in these days.
Katherine St Asaph: Lana Del Rey has a huge fanbase of teenage girls, and the moment I realized this was the moment I started wondering if one day I’d hear what they heard too. “High By the Beach” isn’t quite it. The intro’s like something Amelia Brightman would arrange, which is nice; the hook recalls “Diet Mountain Dew,” which is… okay. As usual, Lana’s at her worst when she tries to be hip — the beat shouldn’t even be here, it should be orchestral or something, and I would fund a hypothetical Patreon to keep Lana Del Rey from ever singing the word “motherfucker” again. I always want her music to be more sumptuous — fuller-voiced, more swooning. But there’s something here: a turning point, a repudiation of older material like “Put Me in a Movie,” a realization: to sulk gorgeously, you don’t need a man. What it reminds me of is Sarah Dessen’s Dreamland. Rereading the book now it’s too conventional, in its prose and its equation of domestic abuse with giving up tan legs, primary colors, cheerleading and other Southern-belle bona fides. But in my memory, it’s a book where the YA-novel plot fades, à la Figgs & Phantoms, into a relationship so bad it’s narcotic: a submerged haze of drugs and desire and people you wouldn’t meet in school, like Corinna, the girl with a dead-end Applebee’s job and deadbeat boyfriend who wanted to run away to California. (Even the name is telling: the short-vowel, more sullen version of sparkly cheerleader Rina.) In a book full of stock characters — the liberal neighbor, the lunkish jock, the cheer captain — she was the only one who felt real, the one whose story I wanted to read instead. When she does eventually run away, leaving everything, sending letters from somewhere past Nevada promising celebrities and beaches and no boys, I imagine her listening to this. If only the song stood without such dramatizing.
Will Adams: Like any Easter egg in a video game, self-quotation in pop songs invokes equal parts intrigue and humor. Lana Del Rey’s frequent self-quotation is rarely discussed in the critical world, except (as in the case of the red dress in Born to Die) as a quick detour to dismissal. But when factored into the larger Lana Del Rey narrative, the recurring lyrics and melodies are fascinating. In “High By the Beach,” the noteworthy line arrives in the bridge: “Lights, camera, ac-ti-on,” lifted, pronunciation and all, from “Put Me In a Movie” off Lana’s scrapped album Lana Del Ray a.k.a. Lizzy Grant. Then, the line was coy and cynical, a Nabokovian taunt to the listener; now, it’s downright assertive. In “High By the Beach,” Lana commands the luxe aesthetic of Born to Die she’d left behind, turning the catch phrase into a self-assured credo, right before she blows the helicopter out of the sky.
Scott Mildenhall: Given coastal decline and seaport drug trades, this is a quite feasible desire. The song is more dystopian than the reality of crumbling coasts eroding deteriorating seaside resorts and adjoining areas weighed down by deprivation, but since “West Coast” was patently about Blackpool, that can only mean this was written during the eerie 2013 tidal surge. Right? More straightforwardly, it’s good that it’s about 80% hook, because you couldn’t hang a hat on “Honeymoon,” and that wound up boring. This has compelling senses of foreboding, mystery and disorientation, but most importantly, it also has a pulse.
Rebecca A. Gowns: I’m still struggling with my Lana Del Rey problem: at what point does artistic expression of ennui cross the line into actual boredom? With each single, her voice gets stronger, the arrangements get prettier, the production keeps up with the trends, but it’s always suffused with such apathy. I get that that’s her “thing,” but it doesn’t appeal to me. Here, she plays “feline ennui,” purring in the choruses — which is at least more entertaining than human ennui. But as exciting as all that slinking around can be, it still feels like half a song. There is so much missing. Perhaps part of the Lana Del Rey appeal is that she points towards what could be there; the emotions beneath the surface, the song hidden within the song. Something tells me that I’d like the hidden song a lot more than what’s actually present here.