I know what you’re thinking. There is no worst Lana del Rey album. And frankly, I’m with you. Each of the indie pop artist’s albums are independently creative yet cohesively Lana-esque in every way. After releasing her 2010 debut album under her own name, Lana went on to release five albums. Though they are all masterpieces in their own right, and though I know each fan has a different rank, here is my list of best-to-least best (eek) Lana del Rey albums from 2012 onward.
Here we go. Don’t hate me.
1. Born to Die. 2012.
Given that “Summertime Sadness” is still floating around the charts seven years later, Born to Die is probably the most definitive Lana del Rey album she has created. Besides the fact that some of her most iconic tunes live on this project, this album represents an incredibly brave experiment on the artist’s part to explore music that went against the grain.
This first major work of Lana’s is timeless in every sense of the word; though years have passed since the album’s release, not only are her songs still moving, but they’re still great to rediscover. Born to Die is the Lana template, one that she has indeed built upon and even strayed from at times, but the very foundation to which fans old and new can return. And the numbers don’t lie either: Born to Die is one of only three albums by female artists that have spent more than 300 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart.
2. Lust for Life. 2017.
This is an album that functions as more of a scrapbook-type story than anything else. Lana moves “out of the black, into the blue,” referencing her older songs as a rectification of the past and a commitment to move forward. Many of the songs on this album are more upbeat and acoustic than fans were used to at its release date, including “Get Free.” Lana is now also responsible for one of the most incredible duets of all time by featuring Sean Lennon on “Tomorrow Never Came,” a tantalizingly sweet and nostalgic song that is likely the best either artist has ever sounded.
Lust for Life was an extremely well-anticipated album (as most of her songs are now), and what she delivered did not disappoint in the slightest. Fans of her slower music liked “13 Beaches” and “Heroin”; those that liked the subtle trap beats had “Lust for Life,” “Summer Bummer,” and “Cherry”; and for all of us who fall into a sublime trance with Lana’s sultry sweet voice, there is “Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind,” and perhaps the gem of the album: “Love.” Saying this album is iconic is an understatement. This is a contribution to Americana and a general gift to music lovers everywhere.
3. Norman Fucking Rockwell! 2019.
This recently-dropped chapter of Lana’s Americana historiography is just as bold, honest, and complicated as its explicit albeit censored title. Having already enjoyed “Venice Bitch,” “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it,” “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “The greatest,” “Fuck it I love you,” and the Sublime song “Doin’ Time,” Lana fans’ appetites were primed for her trademark elegance and grace.
What Norman Fucking Rockwell provides in its entirety a tense, psychedelic, surf-rock Kokomo dream world of California, one which Lana has ruminated on before, except this time with a similar Lust for Life self-awareness. “You don’t ever have to be stronger than you really are,” she sings in “California.” This follows a similar trend of her previous album, continuing her upward evolutionary trend out of the darkness she continues to fight daily, risking the damage of a potential hope in order to feel as transcendently happy as she does in Jack Antonoff’s most recent double-feature video for “Fuck it I love you” and “The greatest.” That hope, she has. Norman Fucking Rockwell is the culmination of Lana del Rey’s every falsetto, deep vibration, survival, resilience, and strength. She continues to reach higher and higher with every sequential album.
4. Honeymoon. 2015.
Needing to follow up Ultraviolence with something different, Lana released Honeymoon, a dream pop/trip hop album that is absolutely escapist. This album is hard – “High by the Beach” and “Music to Watch Boys To” are powerful and elusively satisfying, intoxicating in their bass drum and Lana’s whispers.
This piece also utilizes Lana’s fondness of jazz and blues, like in “God Knows I Tried.” Some tracks are downright hypnotic, like “Terrence Loves You,” which references the ultimate eerie, dissociative song of all time, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie. “Art Deco” and “Freak” follow these same dark, slow motion, synth-trap-trip hop threads. This album is artistic in its very essence. And her recitation of “Burnt Norton,” a portion of a T.S. Eliot poem, is chilling.
5. Paradise. 2013.
At first a package deal with a 2012 rerelease of Born to Die, Paradise includes a number of Lana’s darker songs including “Yayo,” a cover of the 1950s track “Blue Velvet,” and perhaps one of the most poetic, cinematic, stunning masterpieces of her discography, “Ride.” This reworking and recycling of Lana’s original songs allowed an even deeper layer to her psyche than Born to Die provided.
Her lyrics are honest and raw, fulfilling the expectation for Lana songs that they will be dark but beautiful. These tracks were not what most people considered them: bonus tracks on a deluxe edition of Born to Die. In actuality, these songs existed long before Lizzy Grant was Lana del Rey, and they prove her passion for writing and her commitment to being honest, forthcoming, and real. “Ride” remains one of Lana’s most well-written songs (and the video too is exquisite).
6. Ultraviolence. 2014.
Definitely the darkest of Lana’s albums, from the film noir cover to songs like “Sad Girl.” You can definitely hear producer Dan Auerbach’s influence in the slow, guitar-based ballads. This album is undoubtedly beautiful and tragic, and though Lana’s voice has never been better than it is on crooners like “Brooklyn Baby” and “Shades of Cool,” the sadness in this album is deep and palpable. In juxtaposing it to Lust for Life, the contrast is black and white.
But still, the power in her voice is there, from layered choruses in “Money Power Glory” and “West Coast” are beautiful and breathtaking. This may be her rawest album of them all, and her touch is everywhere. “Old Money” is nostalgia written out and sung. Though this is the darkest of her albums, it is an important period in her artistry given its variety and depth to now compare against other albums as well as to acknowledge the true talent Lana has.