ALBUM REVIEW: Lana Del Ray Finds the Silver Lining on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’

We knew Lana can swear like a sailor, but the knowledge that she can feel things comes as more of a shock.

We’ve been here before. That David Lynch portrait on the mantel. Black kohl traces on tissue paper crumpled up in the bin. Bobby Vinton’s Greatest Hits circling lazily on the Victrola. The door to the balcony is open as the muslin curtain billows inwards in the California breeze. The blue horizon is razor-sharp. Lana Del Ray sits in an Art Deco chair, humming softly to herself. You can hear the waves pound against the rocks below, but there’s really nothing to worry about. Everything is going to be just fine.

Those who still consider the Lana to be a fake, in part due to her reinvention as Lana Del Ray after her first go-around as Lizzy Grant failed to catch on, will no doubt continue to troll her. This record won’t change their minds. For those of us who’ve been under her hypnotic spell from the start—and by that I mean Born To Die—there’s a lot to get excited about.  

Excitement (noun) – a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness. 

Not necessarily a word we associate with Lana’s work. Usually, it’s all sultry electronics, scuzzy guitars and that hypnotic voice. A voice from the bottom of a well. Lana’s singing has been coated in Mandrax since “Video Games” sent us all floating loose-limbed up the river into the Heart of Darkness. The songs on Born To Die and Ultraviolence drifted hauntingly, beautifully, in and out of focus, while on Honeymoon they threatened to topple into nothingness entirely. Gossamer thin, they lacked shape. We’re not expecting Amyl and the Nitrates, then, but to hear joy creeping into the mix is interesting. We know Lana can swear like a sailor, but the knowledge that she can feel things comes as more of a shock.

The shift here, though, is subtle. The music tends to embrace real instruments, as opposed to the electronic gauze of her earlier work. The title track drifts in on a muted fanfare of strings before a piano picks out the melody and Lana sings. Within a matter of seconds her bae has “fucked me so hard that I nearly said ‘I love you’”. The title Norman Fucking Rockwell sees her debasing America’s favourite Boy Scout as she struggles to manage her relationship with the “man-child” in her bed. We’re familiar with Lana hustling her way through toxic relationships. But there’s something different here. At times, that voice from the bottom of a well is as light as helium, the stoned ennui breaks as she sighs “fuck it I love you.” And therein lies the key difference.

While her earlier work found her stuck in a sleazy corruption of the American Dream, numbed by sex and drugs, here Lana actually seems to be enjoying life, even when life isn’t playing fair. This is played out in the lonely waltz of “How to Disappear.” Joe, the doomed fighter who “let her down at the training yard” is one in a cast of characters from the boundaries who fall under her spell, and who she cannot let go of.

The album has a delicate quality that her previous work lacked. And yet, I didn’t know those albums lacked anything until I heard this. Is it fake? Maybe. So was Ziggy Stardust. So was Dr. John. Do we fillet the history of great music and weed out all those who crafted a persona? There won’t be much left. In “Happiness is a Butterfly” Lana debates the identity of her lover: “if he’s a serial killer then what’s the worst that can happen?” If Lana’s a fake, what’s the worst that can happen? Does pop music need to be real? Everyone wants to escape something. And while we’ve escaped to this magical place before, it’s great to be back. Fuck it, I love it…

Score: ⛵️⛵️⛵️⛵️⛵️ / 5

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