Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (LP) // 2019


Standout Track(s): Venice Bitch / Love song / The greatest

Album Scores: 4.79 x (1.2) = 5.75

  1. Production: 4.87
  2. Uniqueness: 4.67
  3. Lyricism: 5.00
  4. Listenability: 4.60

As the lush intro to Norman Fucking Rockwell begins, I can’t help but wonder where Lana Del Rey plans to go next. After the strikingly hopeful tone of 2017’s Lust for Life, and the more sad, despair inducing sounds of Born to Die and Ultraviolence, there are least two paths to continue down. But, in true Del Rey fashion, she finds a way to marry the two, resulting in a record that’s more cautiously hopeful, and every bit as jaded. She hinted as much when she released hope is a dangerous things for a woman like me to have – but I have it, where she sings: “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not / But at best, I can say I’m not sad”. This is an album for the road-weary, the optimistic-realist. In many ways, it’s the perfect album for 2019. (Register to vote, people!)

The more I listen to this album, the more it begins to speak to me in terms of setting a story straight. That is, this record is Del Rey’s way of telling her story on her own terms, self-mythologizing meets gossip shut-downs. She calls out the men who “color her blue” in the album’s title track, and admits to her own faults on Mariner’s Apartment Complex – but only so far as to suggest that she, like everyone else, is just human: “I fucked up, I know that, but Jesus / Can’t a girl just do the best she can?” Elsewhere, on Cinnamon Girl, Del Rey confesses to being her own version of a hopeless romantic, always vying for that first relationship where she isn’t hurt by her partner. This is all a far cry from those early interviews and write-ups that considered Del Rey to be a morose, depressed songstress who romanticized abusive relationships and daddy issues. There is so much more to her than that, and on Norman Fucking Rockwell! Del Rey has decided that it’s time to put the truth out there.

Never is this sentiment more true than on California, a piano-driven ballad written as if it was a letter to a former partner. It may be one of Del Rey’s most honest productions, showcasing the loss she’s experiencing, and her pleas for her man to come back. It’s an achingly real song, and it reminds me of St. Vincent’s Happy Birthday, Johnny in its bittersweet realization that neither narrator can do much to bring their friend or partner back. This kind of raw storytelling elevates the album to a new level, layering an honest perspective on top of immaculate production.

Love remains a constant on Del Rey’s work, and in the case of this album, it’s a fleeting, sought-after-but-never-have thing. Love song is the closest we get to a, well, love song, but behind its charming lyrics is a tone of uncertainty. Del Rey wants to if it’s “safe to just be who we are”, and the song’s chorus is very telling: “The taste, the touch, the way we love / It all comes down to make the sound of a love song”. All their love can manage is the “sound” of a love song, rather than the song itself. Love is present, but it’s not all there, and holy fuck is that heartbreaking. This sentiment is echoed in Venice Bitch, where “nothing gold can last”, and in Bartender, as Del Rey asks her lover to “keep love alive”. Rather than consider this a “demotion” of sorts from songs like Love and Lust for Life, Norman Fucking Rockwell! is the logical next step for Del Rey’s interactions with love. The honeymoon (!!) phase is over, and the reality is that it’s not always going to work out, for one reason or another. It’s as Del Rey says in Happiness is a Butterfly: “Try to catch it like every night / It escapes from my hands into moonlight”.

Speaking of Butterfly, the song has one of the most impressive pre-choruses I’ve ever heard.

If he's a serial killer, then what's the worst
That could happen to a girl who's already hurt?
I'm already hurt
If he's as bad as they say, then I guess I'm cursed
Looking into his eyes, I think he's already hurt
He's already hurt

It’s an ode to damaged people trying to find love in this messed up world. He’s been given a reputation, but Del Rey can see the same kind of hurt and loneliness she feels in him as well, and that is what allows them to get closer together.

The world, by the way, really is messed up according to Del Rey. And she’s right, you know. The greatest is dangerously close to a retirement song, and Del Rey admits she’s feeling burnt out and longing for the days she could do nothing. These fears, however, are kept at bay by one simple fact: The greatest is not the last song on the album, and thankfully so. Had the album ended on that note, the whole tone of the album would have shifted to that of a goodbye. The real final track, though, is Hope, and becomes a political statement of its own: things are bad but Del Rey still has hope, despite how easily it is for her to be let down by the world.

It would be odd to consider this album one that has been shaped by a “more mature” Del Rey, as her music has often carried an air of maturity in it, but that’s the best my brain can come up with. I’ll probably want to write more on it once I’ve had more time to let it settle into the Lana Del Rey discography. For now, Norman Fucking Rockwell! showcases an artist at the top of her game: lyrically brilliant with an eye on the truth instead of fantasy. I expect great things to come from it.

*If you want, as I have done, you can add Looking for America as an encore or coda number at the end of the album.

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