“Out of the black, into the blue” — the last words Lana Del Rey repeated on her previous record 'Lust For Life' which ultimately signified a shift in her lyricism, outlook and state of mind all of which had been a ternary in guiding the icon through her musical career.
On her fifth major-label studio album, she absorbs all elements of psychedelic pop, rock and folk-country and piano to create a dream-like experience which embodies her signature sound and aesthetic. Although on first listen it may appear inaccessible and tedious to some listeners due to its Californian themes and static aura, it marks itself as one of Lana’s most cohesive and constitutional albums.
Whether it be the sultry nine-minute-long ‘Venice Bitch’ in which she lets producer Jack Antonoff run wild for a breezy electronic guitar solo or the glistening Sublime cover ‘Doin’ Time’ which easily marks itself as the song of the summer; she’s doing it all on this record.
However, it’s the non-single tracks which shine on this album and perfectly complement its predecessors. The hauntingly brilliant ‘California’ sees Lana lusting for the return of a lover who seems to have lost the passion or (Californian) heat that she required: “You hate the heat / You got the blues.”
Tracks like ‘Cinnamon Girl’ are one of few which have anything other than a piano and guitar, and at this point in Lana’s career — it works. Her sound throughout this album is more mature and mellow than the past, clearly representing her comfortability and new-found hope.
Alongside the album's excellent production, 'Norman Fucking Rockwell' features some of Lana’s most touching and impressive songwriting yet. After the stunningly beautiful and enough-to-give-you-goosebumps guitar riff in ‘The Greatest’, Lana turns to America’s political state. By comparing it to David Bowie’s ‘Life On Mars?’ which discusses a girls reaction to a celebrity on TV, she uses it as a reference to how there is now a celebrity now running the country: “'Life On Mars?' ain't just a song...”
This album shows how serene love and happiness can be, and her effortless portrayal of SoCal imagery through the use of sound is something only she could achieve. Creating this dream-like experience is in part due to the natural journey the album takes listeners on, where each song flows into each other — as if it’s leading to a new chapter in her life.
Producer Jack Antonoff understands Lana and her sound, to which he has tailored his production to the poetry she writes and the atmosphere she wants to create. On the album’s last track, Lana confesses “They write that I’m happy / They know that I’m not / But at best you can see I’m not sad” — bringing the journey full circle.
Happiness, for Lana, is a process. This album is a testament to her afresh stability and strength, and shows that hope might be a dangerous woman for a thing like her to have — but she’s finally got it.
Words: Nick Lowe
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