Columns, Opinion, Reviews

SideTracked: Lana Del Rey’s latest – (Almost) The next best American record

NFR! - Lana Del Rey

Norman F—ing Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey

Released 8/30/2019 – Polydor / Interscope Records

Genres: Art Pop/Soft Rock/Neo-Psych

Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album opens with the most savage sentence of her entire career (Warning: It’s explicit). If the six stellar singles she released over the last year hadn’t already sold me on the record, these two lines alone could have. In just 15 words, she conveyed that this is an entirely new phase in her music. This is an entirely new Lana. This standard of lyrical excellence is maintained through nearly all of “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” and establishes it as one of the paramount pop projects of the decade. 

In the past, her records were bogged down by a number of consistent issues. I understand the disaffected vocal performances in her early works were part of her persona, but they often made me wonder if she even wanted to be singing them. Her constant allusions to Americana weren’t a bad idea in theory, but in practice they often lacked tact. And while I appreciated her last record as a departure from her early formula, it featured sub-par lyricism and some truly awful features. 

“Norman F—ing Rockwell!” fixes each of those problems. The features are gone; all we hear are Del Rey’s most engaging performances to date, lifted to even greater heights by super-producer Jack Antonoff’s sparing-yet-daring compositions. The Americana and pop culture references have been refined, working double-time as homages and as effective lyrics in their own right. 

And, as I mentioned before, the lyrics on this album. Gone are the days of her writing high school poetry about drug use or glorifying toxic flings with archetypal bad boys. Instead, the record deals with nostalgia, the modern man’s lack of emotional intelligence and what the American Dream might mean in 2019. 

In addition to the lyrics on each track being fantastic, several subtle callbacks from song to song amplify the experience even further. On “Venice Bitch,” Lana sings “Paint me happy in blue / Norman Rockwell,” calling back to the title track’s chorus. On lead single “Mariners Apartment Complex,” Lana writes “And who I’ve been is with you on these beaches / Your Venice bitch, your die-hard, your weakness.” She also references Leonard Cohen in both of these tracks as well. This dynamic makes the first half of the record one of the most cohesive ever made. 

That dynamic is absent in the second half of the record, and because of this, there is more pressure on each track to stand on its own. Most of them do, but “Bartender” does not. I find the “bar-t-t-tender” hook extremely annoying and it has the weakest lyrics on the project. With the exception of a few very minor pacing issues on the rest of the album, that track is the only thing keeping it from being a perfect 10.


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