LANA DEL REY – ” Norman Fucking Rockwell ” Best Albums Of 2019

Posted: December 10, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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When Lana Del Rey emerged with the virally successful single ‘Video Games’ in 2011, she wasn’t someone who I had pegged for a long career. ‘Video Games’ had a unique atmosphere, a cinematic ballad with nostalgic Hollywood glamour, but also pigeon-holed Del Rey into a distinctive style.

Since then, Del Rey’s worked with different producers, who’ve provided different backdrops, but regretful and languid ballads have remained her bread and butter. To give her credit, she’s worked at her craft, shaking up her sound just enough to stay fresh while continuing to write fascinating lyrics, keeping her critically and commercially relevant.

The album “Norman F*****g Rockwell!”, largely written and produced by Del Rey and Jack Antonoff, has been widely acclaimed as Del Rey’s best album to date. It has manifested gradually – the excellent singles ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ and ‘Venice Bitch’ appeared a year before the album giving us a taster of the songs.

Del Rey has credited the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump and worsening environment threats with inspiring her the album which explores the decay of the American dream. Typically, it’s steeped in Californian nostalgia, with references to film and musicians like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Dennis Wilson, and the Eagles. The album is named for the painter Norman Rockwell – he serves as a metaphor for immature men.

It helps that Del Rey is endlessly interesting. Her visual aesthetic for Norman F*****g Rockwell! has apparently consisted of submitting whatever photo she had on hand for her single and album covers – hence the Norman F*****g Rockwell! cover shot of Del Rey with Duke Nicholson, Jack Nicholson’s  grandson. She’s also exchanged words with critic Ann Powers, taking umbrage at Powers’ suggestion that Del Rey uses a persona – surely a difficult position for Del Rey to defend, her real name is Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, and the consistent lyrical aesthetic she uses.

Jack Antonoff is largely known for his synth-pop productions for Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Carly Rae Jepsen, but here he backs Del Rey with classy piano-based arrangements. The material is consistently excellent, but at 67 minutes with very little variation in tempo or style, Norman F*****g Rockwell! is less than the sum of its parts.

The song that deviates furthest from the Lana Del Rey template is ‘Venice Bitch’ – it’s almost ten minutes long, and the second half is given over to lovely psychedelic noodling

This is Lana Del Rey‘s sixth studio album “Norman Fucking Rockwell” has been released to a storm of critical praise and instant fan love and it’s easy to see how. Seventeen tracks of inward-looking barebones, atmospheric confessionals have created Lana’s most sincere and vulnerable outing to date, resulting in an album that feels both timeless and highly specific to the times we live in. Opening track ‘Norman fucking Rockwell’ is a manifesto piece for the album, swiftly asserting a wryly confessional tone granting insight into her real-world experiences of womanhood and the man who made those experiences more difficult against a backdrop of warm piano-led balladry.

The references to mid-century icons—The Beach Boys, Sylvia Plath, Slim Aarons—are all still there on her new album, but Norman Fucking Rockwell!, right down to its title’s dismissive interjection of “fucking,” plays out as both a send-up to old avatars of the American Dream and a dismantling of them. Of course, Del Rey is not the first pop star to critique the culture—Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus have all attempted to “get woke” in recent years, with sometimes embarrassing results—but Lana’s approach has certainly been the most authentic.

Lana Del Rey stands amongst the wreckage with us, filtering the apocalyptic malaise of this year through sweeping, majestic piano ballads that recall twentieth century greats, delivering lines like “Goddamn, man-child / You fucked me so good that I almost said, ‘I love you’” on the title track, as if updating Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard” for the Tinder generation.  Despite the overall quality, the album’s not helped in that the most memorable material is clustered around the front. Along with ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ and ‘Venice Bitch’, Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s ‘Doin’ Time’ is also featured early. There are pretty piano ballads sprinkled throughout ‘Cinnamon Girl’, ‘The Greatest’, and ‘Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have But I Have It’ are all diminished in impact by the album’s length.

It would be harsh to cull some of these terrific pieces, but there is a lack of stylistic variation, Norman F*****g Rockwell! is difficult to digest in one stint, and it would be better served with a shorter running time. Nostalgia feels so silly and indulgent now that even an artist who has built her name around an (at times, contrived) vintage romanticism cannot help but turn an eye toward confronting the times in which she is living, rather than rehashing the halcyon days of decades past.

Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell – Out Now

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