REVIEW: Lana Del Rey’s latest album redefines the American artist

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REVIEW: Lana Del Rey’s latest album redefines the American artist

Courtesy

Courtesy

Courtesy

Courtesy

She sings about drugs, love, and emotional turmoil through the prismatic metaphors of Americana, and there’s only one thing we know for sure about her ⁠—she’s sad.

Four studio albums and seven years later, Lana Del Rey, the part jazz singer part groupie, is so much more than the amalgamation of allusions she was upon her debut ⁠—she’s a real person.

She’s a woman, not a girl, and although she still employs her trademark vocabulary of mid-century pop culture references and tropes of female suffering, she does so with newfound sophistication and sincerity.

On her fifth studio album, “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Del Rey restructures her signature brand into a more accomplished and optimistic version of itself. Long gone are the bombastic strings and moody beats of her earlier work.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a lyrical accomplishment made more poignant by the political landscape. The songs center on female experience with total dedication to telling one woman’s story. But the story that the album contains is much larger than Del Rey herself. It’s a story that contains a nuanced dissection of abuse, relationships, masculinity, fame, and psychological pain.

In the first half of the album, Del Rey takes aim at the fragile and hypocritical masculinities surrounding her. Singing over simple instrumentals in the album’s title track, Del Rey laments somewhat ironically and calls the subject of the song a “goddamn man-child” and a “self-loathing poet.”

This theme defines another one of the album’s standout tracks, “Mariners Apartment Complex.”

Sad men are not the same as sad women, Del Rey suggests when she sings, “you took my sadness out of context/at the Mariners apartment complex/ I aint no candle in the wind.”

Del Rey refuses to be defined by her suffering. Not one to dedicate a whole body of work to the utter depravity of her boyfriends, Del Rey broadens her focus on the second half of the album by zooming in on her personal experience. The album’s latter half examines addiction and artistic egos, but its primary topic is the cost of fame.

Del Rey continues her discussion of herself as a subject of widespread attention in one of the album’s best deep cuts, “Bartender.”

Alluding to incidents of paparazzi infringement in previous years, Del Rey sings beautifully over what is the album’s most sonically pleasing arrangement. For someone who spent her entire adult life pursuing fame, Del Rey seems to loathe it.

Such paradoxes are rife within Del Rey’s ever-shifting persona.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell,” one of 2019’s best records, ends with what is likely 2019’s best song.

“Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman like Me to Have – But I have it” is the best of both worlds in Del Rey terms.

It is proudly melancholy, and yet, by definition, hopeful. It is defiant yet tender; it is sonically lush but raw enough to elicit genuine emotion.

It will likely make you cry.

Unless you are, as Del Rey would put it, a goddamn man-child.

Del Rey evokes a tragic poet — the same trope she accused her boyfriend of embodying, and yet she also lives energetically amongst the people.

Del Rey understands that as gifted, troubled, or famous as she may be, her experience is not the ultimate inspiration for her identity.

Instead, she draws inspiration from her surroundings.

She has matured out of mere precociousness into a skillful songwriter who is offering something different — something indispensable.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a self-emancipating declaration on Del Rey’s part that life is more than pain.

Even more importantly, the album is a triumphant testimony that women are not disposable to the American experiment⁠—they are integral to the art and science of this society.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell” is a contribution in the truest sense of the word.