fbpx

LANA DEL REY Norman Fucking Rockwell! gets 9/10


Lana Del Rey

Norman Fucking Rockwell!
Interscope/Universal

9/10

“You took my sadness out of context/ At the Mariners Apartment Complex/ I ain’t no candle in the wind,” sings Lana Del Rey with a wink to Elton John on her latest, and perhaps greatest, album. It’s one of many cultural and historical references on an astonishing record that’s as modern and mulitfaceted as it is classic and heartfelt.

The sad girl of her past is in the crosshairs on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, which features some of Del Rey’s most mature songwriting. Call it her transformative album: the Change evident on 2017’s Lust for Life presents here as fully formed; later in Mariners Apartment Complex she declares, “Who I am is a big time believer/ That people can change… you don’t have to leave her”. It’s something of a mission statement for the new Lana Del Rey.

The fact that it’s regularly being spoken about as the year’s best pop record is something of an anomaly. This isn’t pop music as we know it in 2019. Her slow-burn Americana shares more in common with Father John Misty’s lyrical romanticism, Nancy Sinatra and 70s AM rock radio, while still maintaining that subtle, potty-mouthed sneer of Guns N’ Roses that’s been there since 2014’s previous career highpoint, Ultraviolence. “Fear fun, fear love/ Fresh out of fucks forever,” she sings on the nearly 10-minute Venice Bitch, as if to verify all of the above.

“Me and my friends/ We miss rock and roll,” is also a dead giveaway as to where this record’s heart lies, featured on another of its unforgettable moments, The greatest. There’s more guitars here than anything she’s done since Ultraviolence. Given that record was co-produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach it was understandable, but since then the balance has favoured minimal pop and trap hop. While those touches are still evident, here we are blessed with stunning guitar solos from main producer and one man band Jack Antonoff (Lorde, St Vincent). The melodic finale of Mariners Apartment Complex; the woozy, outstretched Neil Young-isms of Venice Bitch, the grand centrepiece of The greatest; these are not only some of LDR’s finest songs to date, they are solos, lyrics and arrangements people will be learning to play and sing.

Ironically given the pop tag, this is perhaps Del Rey’s most downbeat collection of ballads, relying on her turn of phrase more than ever. A pair of piano ballads that bookend the album rank amongst the standouts in that regard – opening, title track Norman fucking Rockwell starts with the unforgettable turn: “Goddamn, man-child/ You fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you'”. Closer hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it rounds out the collection with references to Sylvia Plath, Charles Manson, The Shawshank Redemption, ‘Bowery Bums’ and enough poignant lyricism to make you preorder her upcoming book of poetry, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.

“Hello, it’s the most famous woman on the iPad/ Calling from beyond the grave I just want to say ‘Hi Dad’,” concludes the second verse of the latter. This unnerving-yet-enthralling mix, of the personal with the technological, of old relationships and ever-evolving experience, characterises Norman Fucking Rockwell! from start to finish. It’s the reason words like “timeless” are being thrown around in relation to this profound record.

HARVEY RAE

Comments are closed.