Lana Del Rey had the opportunity to build on the critically acclaimed ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, alas, she’s settled back into the comfort of her grandiose aesthetic.
Lana Del Rey isn’t real, no pop star really is, but she hates the argument that she isn’t. She hit out at journalists who applauded her use of pastiche and persona; “Never had a persona, never needed one. Never will.” She also came under fire for her social media tirades about the ‘bullshit’ reviews she receives, which held tinges of racism, and so undermined the ‘feminist critique’ she was going for. This came at an odd time, a year on from earning likeness to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell with the aforementioned ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, it can only be assumed that the ‘bullshit reviews’ in question were in regard to her early albums which were critiqued for the whimsical sentiments that inhabited the lyrics. If she never had a persona, perhaps she needed one.
Lana Del Rey’s music, as the old adage goes, is often a marathon and not a sprint, and there’s no doubt that her musical athletic ability is enough to go the distance. The lyrical weaknesses which plagued her earlier works are gone, and she tells a story with every word, it seems that her works have matured that little bit as her fandom graduated from their Tumblr teens and into the adult world. The opening track, ‘White Dress’, opens up with a breezy falsetto, recounting the tale of her pre-stardom waitress job. She squeezes “down at the Men in Music Business Conference” into the chorus, and at first it is hard on the ears, but it grows and fits the youthful naivety that the song details. The album is littered with reverberant vocals that are reminiscent of Mazzy Star and the obligatory dangerous, brooding lovers feature as ironically meta characters throughout; “I’m on the run with you my sweet love”, the titular track chimes. Where ‘White Dress’ deals with pre-fame, ‘Dark but Just a Game’ deals with the throws of being in amongst it; “but their stories all end tragically… and that’s the price of fame”.
The admirable thing about her is this; in a pop world that is heavily influenced by trends, Lana Del Rey battens down the hatches and continues to create works that are quintessentially hers, to the point that her style can be attributed to the explanation of other artists and people will understand. The trouble with doing so is that it creates cuts in her newer efforts that make you think that you’ve heard them before. There’s a constant sense of déjà vu in her creations, and it’s not in a longing for the middle American dream, but rather that her music just sounds the same. There is a section off of the back end of ‘Dancing ‘till we die’ that is the most promising in breaking away from her usual vices. It picks up the pace, the percussion becomes more pronounced, and there’s some jazz lead takes from the woodwind section and guitar in the background. This sort of thing seemed like the more natural step for the singer/songwriter to take, and it’s the one that I personally was hoping for, it’s more frustrating for that little teaser to be there, than it would be if it wasn’t there at all.
In all this is a good effort, it doesn’t re-invent the wheel, and it doesn’t have the evolution that her last effort promised. It’s another Lana Del Rey album.