Album Review: Lana Del Rey // Blue Banisters

Lana Del Rey is back with her second album in six months, drawing a line in the Californian sand somewhere between the majestic arrangements of Norman Fucking Rockwell! and the more grounded sound of Chemtrails Over the Country Club.

Initially dubbed Rock Candy Sweet, Blue Banisters was announced shortly after the release of Chemtrails Over the Country Club earlier this year. With such a short turnaround, it begged the question: would Lana Del Rey have anything worthwhile to add to the themes explored in Chemtrails, or would her second project of 2021 consist of second-rate selections from the cutting-room floor?

In part, Lana gathers simulacrums of her past oeuvre and presents them under new auspices across a good chunk of “Blue Banisters”. A number of tracks were intended for previous releases but did not ultimately make successive cuts. It’s the case for the lethargic “If You Lie Down with Me” that depicts a woozy Lana spinning around under the flickering light of a dodgy dive bar. It joins a plethora of nondescript Lana Del Rey unreleased tracks and demos that have made their way onto fan-owned youtube playlists over the past decade, complete with approximate lyrics overlay, pictures of dark roses, broken vases and cigarette butts.

“Dealer” is another track originally meant for another project that ended up on “Blue Banisters”. Co-written with members of The Last Shadow Puppets as part of a scrapped collaboration album, the idea that the song could appear on the Chemtrails Over the Country Club tracklist was then thrown around by Lana herself. Amidst a collection stacked with ballads, the track provides a nice change of pace as it finds Lana emoting profusely: she yells “I don’t wanna live” in the chorus, before discounting the gravity of her own effusion with the almost comical exasperation of “Why can’t you be good for something?”.

The soulful “Thunder” was also initially written in the context of the potential Last Shadow Puppets collaboration. It’s also another witness account of a dissolving relationship: “You act like fucking Mr. Brightside when you’re with all your friends,” Lana complains, “But I know what you’re like / When the party ends.”

Add “Nectar of the Gods” and “Cherry Blossom” to the ranks of re-purposed songs–although they don’t bring as much to the table as their counterparts. Both are filled with specks of the tired imagery that has mired a good part of Lana’s early music: talk of self-medication and the ever-present assertion that she’s the wildest woman out there are inescapable, as is the passé take on religious iconography laced into tales of thrills and excess. “Swing it high like Jesus, wild and free” in “Cherry Blossom” pretty much sums up what a good part of what Born to Die had to offer lyrically.

Lana’s general disposition on the album is one of monotony, explaining why it’s always a welcome surprise whenever her vocal performance strays from the beaten path. There are a number of notable instances to pick from in addition to the electrifying wailing on “Dealer”. “Wildflower Wildfire” is a spell-binding account of childhood trauma that’s rendered all the more hard-hitting by Lana’s vocal somersaults throughout and she revels in a pristine higher register on the sweet “Sweet Carolina”, a distant reminder of Chemtrails standout “White Dress”.

With Chemtrails and now Blue Banisters, Lana has traded a growing portion of her baroque pop chops for tunes built on classic folk balladry. It’s most evident on the last leg of this new album. “Living Legend” is a stripped song that manages to stick the landing with few to no-frills, including a (very) brief “Summertime Sadness” interpolation (if even that). “Sweet Carolina” radiates empathy with cascading keys and a melodic simplicity that’s not lost on the listener whose introduction to the album was the intricate (and perhaps convoluted) “Text Book”.

Blue Banisters can be credited for adding nuance to Lana’s recurrent imagery. In particular, the album adds to the mythos she’s created around the colour blue, from the Born to Die cold visuals that accompanied some of the era’s bleakest tracks, to Honeymoon’s oxymoronic warm melancholy and more recently the weepy nostalgia of Norman Fucking Rockwell!. In “Beautiful” she squeezes her deep-seated sadness for all it’s got while name-checking Picasso and daring an audacious (wild!) comparison to the painter: “I can turn blue into something beautiful,” she sings, echoing the banister renovations in the title track. Blue turns green, melancholy turns into opportunities for growth and rebirth. In “Wildflower Wildfire”, blue even becomes the color of raging flames as Lana emerges for “a bed of wildflowers” through the force of “sheer willpower”.

All in all, Blue Banisters isn’t Lana Del Rey’s most potent statement in recent memory, but it serves as a decent synthesis of how her art has progressed since she broke onto the scene with “Video Games”.

Rating

Blue Banisters is available to stream, download and purchase now. Lana Del Rey will be appearing tonight on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to perform ‘Arcadia’.

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Red Dziri

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