Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! | Album Review

Lana Del Rey has always fallen in an interesting place for me. While I would not call myself a big fan of her, I always understood the appeal of her music. Each of her projects has standout moments but she has yet to grab me for an entire project. That being said, I did think she was getting better with each release and while it was an inconsistent mess, Lust for Life had many moments of promise on it.

That being said, I went into Norman Fucking Rockwell! hoping that Lana would continue this upward trajectory. I was also pretty excited to see Jack Antonoff’s name on the majority of the songs with a co-writer and co-producer credit. He just impressed with his work on Lover so I only expected he would do great work with Lana as well. I did manage to ignore the singles for this, some of which have been out for about a year, and the fact this was getting pushed back so much did make me hesitant.

Fortunately, however, this album turned out damn near perfect. I think to say that this is Lana Del Rey’s best album would be an understatement, this might be one of the best albums of the year. Lana’s writing has improved incredibly and Jack Antonoff delivers some of his best production since Melodrama.

The album starts with “Norman fucking Rockwell,” which perfectly sets the tone for what we are to expect on the arch of this record. The first lines sung by Lana are “Goddamn, man-child/You fucked me so good I almost said ‘I love you.’” The short lines have such weight and really set up the relationship that Lana has with the person who clearly inspired much of this record. The rest of the track breaks down her partner’s immature, pretentious behaviors over some soaring piano and string work. The song flows into “Mariner’s Apartment Complex,” a song that is one of the best written in Lana’s catalog. The song sees Lana reaching out and helping a friend, relating her past struggles to their current ones in a way to guide them forward.

These two songs do a great job of setting up Lana’s view of her partner. She sees them as problematic and immature but still is there for them and not afraid to be the stronger person in the relationship as they work through their problems. From here, the relationship is evaluated deeper on “Venice Bitch,” a series of snapshots that portrait their relationship as something more positive but still plagued with issues. Lana even admits that what they have is not meant to last. She sings “And as the summer fades away/Nothing gold can stay” and discusses the insane cycle of her living her life as a musician while he continues to write. Despite this, the next song  “Fuck it, I love you,” shows Lana honest about her true deep feelings for her partner, even if they are not there physically with her.

This sense of longing for someone who is absent in your life continues on “Love song,” which is essentially what the title implies it to be. She reflects on their passionate times together and the things that all go together to make their love song. But she is still reminded here that despite this love, her partner is not always there for her. A brutal fact that adds pain to this otherwise romantic piano ballad. Her partner’s vices are explored more on “Cinnamon Girl,” which shows that her partner’s absent is not just a physical one. She details his drug habits and how she continues to love him and push herself into his life as he uses drugs to escape. It is a devastating look into their relationship and is truly when you can see whatever they do have is unhealthy and unsustainable.

This is also captured on “How to disappear,” another ballad about the pain of loving someone who is abusing drugs to escape. Lana’s pain and loneliness is extremely noticeable and if your heart wasn’t breaking before, now is when it does. “California,” follows and plays as Lana continuing to reach out to her lover, and adds more details about her deep emotional feelings for them. While one of the slower tracks, the instrumentation is layered wonderfully and swells with intensity to add more dimension to the song.

From here we do get some of the weaker songs, but that is not to say they are bad. Sadly, “The Next Best American Record” is a rare example of a song that Antonoff was not involved with and I would say it shows. It sounds like one of Lana’s earlier tracks but still fits in sonically with the rest of the tracks here and the explosions of the production during the pre-chorus and chorus is wonderful. “The greatest” is a song that is completely fueled by nostalgia for times when things were clearly happier for her. The track excellent ties in several various pieces of American culture and tying them to how Lana is currently feeling.

The album picks up in a huge way for the final two songs. “Happiness is a Butterfly” is the most painful ballad that Lana has ever written and captures the moment where her relationship seems to finally break. The immense denial and pain that is felt in lines like “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst that can happen to a girl who’s already hurt.” The relationship is ending and Lana is fighting it and the way she delivers these lines are truly gut-wrenching. The closer “hope is a dangerous thing…” shows some catharsis for the experience, showing there is hope after this pain, even if it is not enough to make her happy. It is a rightfully somber, yet beautiful way for this record to end.

And that is the painful arch to Norman Fucking Rockwell, at least as I was taking it. Even when this album strays away from its typical narrative, like on the chill rendition of “Doin Time,” I still feel that everything is in its right place and fits the vibe that Lana is going for. I am amazed by how much she has improved with each album and this truly sets the bar incredibly high for anything she does next. Maybe this just hit me at the right time but I really do love this album and will be happy to include it among this year’s best once 2019 reaches its end.

Best Tracks: Norman fucking Rockwell, Mariners Apartment Complex, Venice Bitch, Love song, Cinnamon Girl, How to disappear, The greatest, Happiness is a butterfly, hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it

Worst Track: Bartender

Rating: A

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: