Review: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!

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Glorious

It's Lana Del Rey's best album yet - through its somber, minimalist production, Lana's vocals shine through to serenade us with poignant extracts of different loves - from bartenders to manchildren.

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After a year of releasing promising singles, Lana has finally graced our ears again and invited us aboard her ship to tell us escapist tales of failed romance. While Lust for Life was a much more production-heavy, pop-influenced album which saw Lana dabbling in hip-hop and various features. Norman Fucking Rockwell! (NFR) is the opposite of that – Lana at her most authentic, no features necessary. NFR sees a more stripped-back production with Jack Antonoff at the helm, creating a consistent tone throughout every track. Lana feels her most authentic with Antonoff’s gentler production like we’re really getting the best out of her. Lana’s gorgeous, heartbreaking voice becomes richer with this. Anyone who was a fan of Ultraviolence will love this album – and anybody who is a fan of Lana will appreciate this album.

Lana’s latest offering is markedly different from her prior albums. For one thing, she’s finally abandoned her mantra of standing next to cars and set sail with Duke Nicholson on a boat for this cover. The beach is on fire behind her, and she’s reaching out and inviting us on board to save us.  The title of the album is in a pop-art, comic style which gives Roy Lichenstein vibes. The title itself refers to Norman Rockwell, an acclaimed artist who captured scenes of American life (minus the fucking).

The title track opens with grand cinematic, Hollywood strings before shifting to an upbeat piano melody and the first lyric of the album – “God damn, man-child / You fucked me so good I almost said I love you”. Lana sets out the mocking tone of the track, as she tears into her lover, a frustrating contemporary poet. She sings “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news / But I can’t change that and I can’t change your mood, ah”. It’s a funny thing to blame the quality of your art on the news – the guy being savagely serenaded here is too vain to blame himself, so he blames the news.  Her criticisms are funny and her delivery of the lyrics work excellently, like “You act like a kid even though you stand six-foot two”, “You talk to the walls when the party gets bored of you”. The man is blinded by his arrogance and can’t see his flaws, and this takes its toll on Lana as she mourns “‘Cause you’re just a man / It’s just what you do / Your head in your hands / As you color me blue”, with “blue” repeating and layering until it blurs into one and becomes a ghostly outro. It’s a great opening track to the album and keeps her motif of being unable to change her partner.

‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’ remains one of my favourites from the album. In it, Lana shows strong character, rescuing her doubtful lover and guiding him by her side. The song opens with opulent piano and strings before reverting to a softer guitar, letting Lana’s vocals steer the track. She continues to intertwine the titles of other songs into her lyricism, protesting “I ain’t no candle in the wind” ala Elton John’s 1974 tribute song ‘Candle in the Wind’, asserting her avowal of vulnerability. Taking charge of her lover’s life and steering him in the right direction, she sings in the chorus “You lose your way, just take my hand / You’re lost at sea, then I’ll command your boat to me again / Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am / I’m your man / I’m your man”. It’s a beautifully written song with a silky blend of instruments and harmonies. The outro transitions into some more heavy psychedelic vibes, a fitting segue into the glorious psychedelic-pop extravaganza – ‘Venice Bitch’, which takes you on a cozy, 9-minute mellow trip.

‘Bartender’ has become one of my favourites from the album – it is deceptively catchy, as Lana stutters through the chorus “Bartender, bart-t-t-tender”. As with most of the tracks, she refers to older American songs and artists, like ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper and shouting out Crosby, Stills and Nash. In the song, she refers to her sobriety in a sweet manner, ordering Cherry Coke instead of alcohol (“Baby, remember, I’m not drinking wine / But that Cherry Coke you serve is fine”. The piano melody is uplifting, as it accelerates as the song goes on, making her details of escaping and swooning her bartender feel like an optimistic affair. Again, the minimalist production allows Lana to confess her heart out here and stay playful with the stuttering chorus.

The album closes on an incredibly strong note with ‘Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it‘, a beautiful self-reflective song. Overall, the album is very strong and consistent in its tone of melancholy and romance. Lana’s arguably most accessible song, ‘Doin’ Time’ – a cover of Sublime’s single – is sure to be a staple in many playlists to come. I really can’t see myself skipping a song. The lush lyricism and Antonoff’s production style are a match made in heaven and have resulted in one of Lana’s best works to date.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! by Lana Del Rey is out now via Polydor/UMG. 

 

 

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Final year film student writing often about music.

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