Lana Del Rey Comes Into Her Own on “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”

“God damn man-child / You fucked me so good I almost said I love you… Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news.” These are the lyrics that begin the intro/title track on the newest album from New York-via-Los Angeles singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey. With these simple words, Del Rey sets up the sarcastic, downtrodden tone of “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”, an album that is sure to define 2019 for many. 

It’s a precise tone for Del Rey to set who has struggled in the past finding direction in her music, as she combined elements of classic 50’s Americana with modern pop, indie, and even hip-hop in her brand of releases.

Del Rey made massive moves with her 2017 attempt, “Lust For Life”. Strong features from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and even Stevie Nicks made for a listening experience that was leaps and bounds better than her previous work which often felt a bit listless and without clear direction. Del Rey’s songwriting improved greatly on “Lust For Life” with some of her most personal and intimate work to date with some pop bangers that could do well in the club. The album was even nominated for a Grammy for Best Vocal Album. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the massive increase in quality found on Norman Fucking Rockwell!

The hype began to build with a large number  of teaser tracks (5) before the release of the album — the first of which were “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “Venice Bitch”. The former is arguably the best, most heartbreaking song she has ever recorded: “They mistook my kindness for weakness / I fucked up, I know that but Jesus / Can’t a girl just do the best she can.” It’s such a captivating track that I found myself having severe shower cries whenever I put it on. RIP my masculinity. 

“Venice Bitch” is also a surprising cut from classic Del Rey. Not only is it beautiful lyrically and vocally, but it also packs a punch with an extended instrumental passage performed by super-producer Jack Antonoff who is the only other writing/producing credit found on the entire album. (Save for the excellent cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” making it Lana’s most intimate project she’s ever released, no longer bogged down by an endless string of collaborators. Antonoff’s production is so vital to the album that he’s even featured on the album’s phenomenal throwback cover art. 

The production is especially jaw-dropping on the closer track; “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have — but i have it,” a very ethereal cut from the album that has Lana’s ghostly voice clouded in echo effects over a sad piano melody. This song, along with “Fuck it I love you” puts Lana’s singing in the spotlight giving her an opportunity to show off her impressive vocal range.

The album does a remarkably impressive job at balancing a very precise tone between hilarious and deeply sad best marked by the song “Happiness is a butterfly” “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst / That can happen to a girl whose already hurt… “I said ‘don’t be a jerk, don’t call me a taxi’”. She rides such a thin line that it leaves the listener often unsure whether to laugh or cry. 

If I have one issue with the album, it appears on the song “The Next Best American Record” mostly because Lana struggles with some of the pretentiousness that corroded some of her earlier work. On this song, Lana stunts about how talented she is and how important her work is to the point where it becomes kind of obnoxious. Like, yes, she’s a very gifted artist, but a track like this feels oddly braggadocious on an album that is otherwise very vulnerable. 

Either way, “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is a fantastic listen from Lana Del Rey and Jack Antonoff. The songwriting is deeply personal and hits an emotional core unlike most  — if not all of the other albums I’ve heard this year. Del Rey has stepped up as a songwriter since her early work, and Antonoff’s beautiful instrumentation makes for a very impactful listening experience. I give it a very high recommendation, and I’m only more excited for her next album, the recently-announced 2020’s “White Hot Forever”.

9/10

Favorite Tracks: “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “Venice Bitch,” “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it”

Least Favorite Track: “The Next Best American Record”

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