Lana Del Rey is back with a beautiful album, and you shouldn’t be surprised.
New York-born, Los Angeles-loving Del Rey is known for a number of things: her melancholy glitz, her cinematic sound, her complicated relationship with America, her line “My p--- tastes like Pepsi Cola," so on and so forth.
Maybe the specifics don’t matter too much though. Let’s stop at the fact that she is known. It’s easy for listeners to come to her music with assumptions related to her public image -- one that doesn’t get enough respect.
Hopefully “Norman F---ing Rockwell!” changes the mind of any naysayer who listens to its carefully crafted hour and seven minutes of nostalgia and growth.
To open the album, Del Rey’s hypnotizing delivery of, “G-d--- man child / You f---ed me so good that I almost said I love you,” on “Norman f---ing Rockwell” cuts like a knife.
It’s hard to pick up the pieces after this raw and heart-wrenching honesty, paired with simple piano as if it’s opening a church service.
She keeps pushing with lyrics like, “But I don’t get bored, I just see it through / Why wait for the best when I could have you?” After this, the inaugural strings are reintroduced to the track. A sky opens up over the song even after she drops a line of such sickly acceptance that you almost have to start the song over to build yourself back up to the moment.
Can we find hope in settling for something average?
Del Rey doesn’t let go of this question. Our songstress haunts us as she encourages us, recounting her own missteps and choosing her battles where she needs to.
On “Venice B----,” she begins with, “Fear fun, fear love / Fresh out of f---s forever,” before accepting that she’s her lover’s “little Venice b----,” an airy Valley girl “yeah” underlying the repeated “bang bang, kiss kiss.”
The song’s title continues her self-identification with the Golden State. She decides it’s “more than just a state of mind” in “F--- it, I love you,” ending the song with, “California dreamin’ / Got my money on my mind.”
There’s something in the California water that permeates each track, whether it’s some kind of golden opportunity or a privilege to lay in the sun and bump the Eagles to escape it all. Still, on “The greatest,” she can’t help a little bit of nostalgia for New York nights.
Despite her sunny setting, Del Rey can’t dance her feelings away forever and doesn’t want to. Her emotions are often startlingly real and presented with amazing conversational intimacy.
“The Next Best American Record” shows this conflict in full force, contrasting the genuine adoration and happiness in her memories with the forced forgetfulness of her present. As she looks back, she sings lowly over an acoustic guitar. Then she claims, “Whatever’s on tonight / I just wanna party with you,” and the bass kicks in, carrying us back to the present.
She begs for her other half to be her “once in a lifetime” on “Love Song,” claiming over minimal piano and slowly growing cinematic strings that she’s at her best in his fast car but falling apart everywhere else, including in his arms.
It’s been easy for some to criticize the dependency in Del Rey’s lyrics, but that argument dismisses that she grapples with how to express herself like anyone does. Sure, she would do a lot for this guy, but she also sings that he sees her for who she is and is making her realize that it’s “safe to just be who we are.”
On “California,” she assures, “You don’t ever have to be stronger than you really are / When you’re lying in my arms.” Instead of talking to someone else, it feels like she’s addressing her own insecurities in “Love song.”
She can distract herself with other people, with drinks and with lights, but Del Rey peels back paint on “Norman F---ing Rockwell!” and clearly defines herself to those listening as an adaptable and hopeful woman. Beneath her continuing association with American symbols, there’s a rawness and tangibility that’s hard to parallel.
This isn’t anything new though, she’s no doubt presented herself beautifully on this album, but it would be a mistake to dismiss all of her work until this point and claim that this depth is new.
Whether she’s cruising down the freeway, dancing her a-- off or reminiscing on the beach, Del Rey is human. “Norman F---ing Rockwell!” expresses that gorgeously.
"Music Mondays" is a weekly column run in conjunction with the University of Richmond radio, WDCE.
Contact contributor Gabby Kiser at firstname.lastname@example.org. Kiser is the general manager for WDCE.