The Americans involving fifth album proves she can do more than merely conjure up a mood

It was probably inevitable that Lana Del Rey would one day write a song called California. Having often set her tunes in specific locales Brooklyn Baby, West Coast and Venice Bitch are just three previous stops on the open-top Del Rey bus tour it comes as little surprise that at the heart of Norman Fucking Rockwell, the fifth of her acknowledged studio albums, Del Rey should be throwing a party for some hot guy, if hes ever in California again. Crazy love, muses Del Rey, audibly shaking her head at the memory, yet nursing some unspecified guilt.

Whats odd, however, is that while California is technically one of the strongest songs (there are actual beats; its about something tangible) its also one of the least interesting tracks on this unorthodox, involving album, named after a devotee of lived American iconography, the 20th-century illustrator Norman Rockwell. Rarely has the offer of a party, with your favourite alcohol off the top shelf, seemed so unenticing, compared with everything else thats going on here.

First, there are the Rockwell parallels Del Rey is clearly angling for, despite the fact that the title track actually concerns a self-loving and resident Laurel Canyon know-it-all, rather than Rockwell himself.

Rockwell specialised in highly stylised scenes from American 20th-century life, reflecting myths back to an adoring public before later becoming more politically aware. Del Rey has drawn on old Hollywood, summer time and a half-debutante, half-gangsters moll alter ego. Suddenly, in 2017, she engaged with the world as it was, endorsing Wiccan moves to place a binding spell on the then new president. Most recently, she put out Looking for America, in response to this summers mass shootings a stark contrast to the high old time her solipsistic, dissolute songs were previously enjoying.

Ultimately, there are more intriguing things afoot on Norman Fucking Rockwell than mere parties: Del Reys taking off [her] bathing suit and going meta, writing the next best American record on The Next Best American Record, or buying a truck to enable an incognito midnight flit with a bartender. Most invested listeners will already have heard about Del Rey going 24/7 Sylvia Plath, and writing on the walls in blood on the previously released Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have But I Have It.

Watch the video for Venice Beach.

The six tracks drip-fed thus far over a period of 11 months include some of the very strongest work Del Rey has done since Video Games, her audacious breakout sensation of 2011 and its accompanying album, Born to Die. The remainder of Normal Fucking Rockwells unreleased tracks can, as a result, seem a little surplus and one-note strings and synth washes soundtrack multiple love songs, one of which is actually called Love Song but there are standouts. How to Disappear echoes Bartenders escape motif, but this waltz with Christmas bells has an unusually happy ending. No ones going anywhere, Del Rey assures her love interest.

The retro haze remains inescapable. Like Lust for Life, Norman Fucking Rockwells 2017 predecessor, this record is stuffed with classic rock references: Cinnamon Girl borrows its title, if little else, from Neil Young, while Crosby, Stills and Nash jostle for room with Led Zeppelins album Houses of the Holy and more subtle nods. I heard the war was over if you really choose, she purrs at one point, paraphrasing John Lennon and Yoko Onos War Is Over (If You Want It). Doin Time, a Sublime cover, is actually the songs most forthcoming bop.

In truth, the music barely bothers to present itself as pop quite a feat, since its produced by Jack Antonoff, who helmed last weeks Taylor Swift album. Most of Norman Fucking Rockwell exists in some timeless, catgut-strewn place where 3am bar pianos and washes of keyboards serve as the tear-stained mat under Del Reys glass slipper of a voice until, that is, a song such as Cinnamon Girl suddenly unspools an unexpectedly long, lyrical instrumental coda, in an electronic-tinged echo of Youngs famous meandering. Venice Bitch, the nine-minute epic that crowns Del Reys latterday output, wanders off into long-haired analogue synth territory.

Listen to Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have But I Have It.

There is nothing on the unheard eight tracks of Norman Fucking Rockwell that trumps Venice Bitch, or Hope or The Greatest, another previously released instance of high-calibre yearning. But increasingly, for an artist who has made a career out of cinematic mood-creation, Del Reys lyrics can stop you in your tracks.

In keeping with the F-bomb of the title, and the tweet Del Rey infamously sent to Azealia Banks in 2018 (I wont not fuck you the fuck up), the album opens pugnaciously. Goddamn man-child/ You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you, Del Rey declares, her unapologetic sexuality in sharp contrast to the songs chaste swirl of Disney strings and a retro piano line redolent of Carole King.

There is a danger here, too, that Del Reys songs could turn into a mere Easter egg hunt, given the tapestry of references she weaves, unstitched from their meanings. Sometimes girls just want to have fun, Del Rey muses at one point, The poetry inside of me is warm like a gun. But its hard for any artist on their fifth album to cause you to sit up and pay attention as much as Del Reys Norman Fucking Rockwell does, let alone for an artist who is such a past master of the disengaged, dissolute swoon.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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