A big aspect that has made Lana Del Rey’s music her own since Born to Die has been the selling a fantasy. The character that Del Rey has created within her records of the innocent, demure girl always looking for dangerous men has always been the most alluring quality to her fans and the biggest annoyance to her detractors. Music that sounds as grounded and personal as hers coming from an artificial persona, an unashamedly feminine persona at that, was unlikely to receive unanimous acclaim from a predominantly male music media press.
However, some of the greatest early tracks (i.e. “Ride,” “Born to Die”) paint a beautiful scene of this emotionally detached yet dangerously sexy fantasy she has become known for embodying. As captivating of a persona and a writer that Del Rey is, especially in her first couple projects, a lack of development in her persona and her sound resulted in diminishing returns on records such as Honeymoon and especially Lust for Life.
‘Norman F***ing Rockwell’ sees the Lana’s work at her most fleshed out
This is why a rebound record like Norman F***ing Rockwell was necessary for Del Rey. It is a major fleshing out of her persona, to the point where it feels like the separation between Lana Del Rey, the character, and Lizzie Grant, the songwriter, feels smaller than ever. The sombre yet seductive Lana that people have grown to love is here at peak performance on tracks like “F**k It I Love You” and “Love Song.” The former does major justice to the trip hop-ier elements of Lana’s sound, and the latter is one of the sexiest slow-burners Lana has ever recorded, which is quite the accomplishment for what is a simple, string-assisted piano ballad.
However, what makes Norman F***ing Rockwell such an exciting new direction for Lana is shown quite clearly on the opener, which is also the title track. Lyrically, it is a humorous, biting critique of the kind of emotionally-distant bad boys that would normally be the object of desire on many Lana tracks. Lines like “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news / But I can’t change that, and I can’t change your mood” and “You talk to the walls when the party gets bored of you” make this song a strong contender for best lyrics of 2019.
Some of the best lyrical content to come out of 2019
Many of the most emotionally potent tracks on Norman F***ing Rockwell contain bits of meta-commentary on the image that Lana has held up so strongly for years. In the chorus of “Cinnamon Girl,” all of the seductive framing of Del Rey’s dangerous fantasy melts away to reveal a crushing reality, “Like if you hold me without hurting me / You’ll be the first who ever did.” It recontextualies so much of Lana’s material in a painful, yet powerful way. But “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it” are the tracks that show the biggest development of Lana Del Rey’s persona. “Mariners” is especially powerful; after so many years of Lana being the small, submissive figure in her songs, a track that exudes so much self-confidence and feminine power is extremely refreshing.
‘Norman F***ing Rockwell’ is more than just all of the stars aligning for Lana Del Rey. Sure, it’s the best production, writing, and singing to ever be on one of her records. But there’s also the unprecedented elevation of her craft featured all across the record. The character that Lana has crafted across her discography has never felt so fleshed out, emotionally potent, or real before. The hazy, dream-like visions of projects like ‘Born to Die’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ are presented with a level of dimension and vividness rarely seen before, and unlikely to be seen again.
Even aside from lyrical content, Norman F***ing Rockwell is an incredible feat for Del Rey when it comes to songwriting. There are so many moments where her genius songwriting ability stands out above everything else. “Venice Bitch” remains a gorgeous, captivating track throughout its 10-minute runtime because Lana and Jack knew exactly how to pace the musical journey and transition between each musical section, while “The Greatest” breaks out a guitar solo at the perfect moment.
Lana Del Rey and Jack Antonoff are 2019’s most dynamic duo
What can’t be overlooked is just how gorgeous Norman F***ing Rockwell sounds. Jack Antonoff has done wonders for so many pop artists in recent years (Lorde, St. Vincent, Taylor Swift), but his work with Lana on Norman F***ing Rockwell may be his greatest accomplishment yet. Lana has always been deeply inspired by artists across the decades, but Antonoff has helped Lana make those influences more fleshed out than they have ever been. “F**k It I Love You” sounds like quintessential Lana, but the old school influences have never been fused with her style so seamlessly. The doo-wop and brill building vibes are incredibly potent on “How to Disappear,” but the stripped-back instrumentation and synthetic snare modernize the track in a way that sounds supernatural and super Lana. Even beginning to break down the genius of “Venice Bitch” would take countless hours, but the hazy sonic palette, gorgeous instrumental embellishments, and masterful mixing are all big reasons as to why it’s one of the best pieces of neo-psychedelia to be released in quite a long time. Even though Lana’s cover of “Doin’ Time” by Sublime doesn’t really complement Norman F***ing Rockwell’s lyrical themes, it’s such a well-executed, summery trip hop jam that its inclusion on the record is still appreciated.
Listening to the finer instrumental details of Norman F***ing Rockwell, you can tell that Antonoff also co-wrote all of the tracks he co-produced. Lana’s songwriting and her musical accompaniment are tightly intertwined, especially so on tracks Anotonoff worked on. Moments like the vocal line and harp perfectly transitioning from the verses of the title track to the hook, as well as the aforementioned guitar solo on “The Greatest” are solid proof of this. Every track that sees Lana and Antonoff teaming up is another moment to witness 2019’s most dynamic duo.
“Norman F***ing Rockwell”
“Mariners Apartment Complex”
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Featured Image: NME
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