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Review: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell

One of the biggest releases of 2019, Declan O’Dwyer looks back on Lana Del Rey’s album, Norman Fucking Rockwell.

Words by Declan O’Dwyer 

Norman Fucking Rockwell, the sixth album from Lana Del Rey.
Norman Fucking Rockwell, the sixth album from Lana Del Rey.

Being one who always thought of myself as kind of indifferent to Lana Del Rey’s music, a couple of months ago I would not have been expecting to be purchasing her newest release. However, with the seemingly positive vibes emanating from everywhere it raised my curiosity levels so much as to purchase the album myself.

The title of the album was the first thing presumably many needed to understand. Noman Rockwell was an American author, painter and illustrator. Del Rey explained the album title and opening track of the same name in an interview she did with Zane Lowe:

“So the title track is called Norman Fucking Rockwell and it’s kind of about this guy who is such a genius artist but he thinks he’s the shit and he knows it and he, like, won’t shut up talking about it.”

That gives you the gist of the character she is singing about in the opening piano driven track. On the title track and throughout she does not shy away from sexually explicit lyrics. Another point worth noting throughout the record is her reference to classic songwriters and lyrics.

Self- loathing poet, resident Laurel Canyon know-it-all… You talk to the walls when the party gets bored of you…

Laurel Canyon is a neighbourhood located in the Hollywood Hills region of Santa Monica in the district of Los Angeles, California. In the late sixties, early seventies musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills and Nash, Young, Carole King, The Mamas and the Papas, The Eagles and many more lived and were part of the scene there. She uses the word blue sixteen times in the track. One can imagine that as homage to Joni Mitchell’s classic album of the same name. The accompanying music also has a classic feel to it.

The next track ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ is the best track on the album. Her singing is sublime on this. The piano is to the fore again before an acoustic guitar can be heard.

You took my sadness out of context… at the Mariners Apartment Complex… I ain’t no candle in the wind…

The reference to the Elton John track is interesting here as that song was homage to Marilyn Monroe. She epitomised to what many men and indeed women of the time viewed as the dream American woman. Men wanted to be with her and women wanted to look like her.

Lana Del Rey might be saying here that she doesn’t typify that and should be viewed in more realistic terms. By the time we get to the chorus she seems to be singing from how she would like to be viewed by her partner.

You lose your way, just take my hand… you’re lost at sea, then I’ll command your boat to me again… don’t look too far, right where you are… that’s where I am… I’m your man

The outro to the song features an electric guitar, which compliments the piano perfectly for a more dramatic climax. The third track clocks in at almost ten minutes but never overstays its welcome. On ‘Venice Bitch’ the tone is different as she is longing for her lover. One of the lyrics here might be a nod to a line from the Crosby Stills and Nash track ‘Our House’. That particular track is about domestic bliss:

I’ll light the fire… you put the flowers in the vase that you bought today…

While Del Rey’s verse is more practical:

You’re in the yard, I light the fire… and as the summer fades away… nothing gold can stay… you write, I tour, we make it work…

Musically midway through the song the guitar sound gets slightly distorted and near the end a drum like sound gives the track added gravitas.

Fuck It I Love You’ to these ears is a song about longing and her insecurities:

I moved to California, but it’s just a state of mind… it turns out everywhere you go you tell yourself  “that’s not a lie”…

A few verses later she feels different about his situation there.

It turns out California’s more than just a state of mind… I met you on the boulevard, wind through my hair, you blew my mind…

Doin Time’ is a more dance orientated track. This changes the tempo of the album from the more classic song-writing sound, giving it a more modern sheen. The album dips a bit after this.

The next track that piques my interest is ‘The Next Best American Record’. It continues in that vein of name checking records from the seventies, with a hat-tip to Led Zeppelin’s 1973 album ‘House of Holy’:

My baby used to dance underneath my architecture… to the Houses of the Holy smokin’ on them cigarettes…

Later in the track the Eagles are namechecked, During ‘The Greatest’ there is also a nod to the Beach Boys. ‘Bartender’ is a piano-driven track that makes references to both Crosby Stills and Nash and Joni Mitchells record ‘Ladies of the Canyon’. This is not a criticism of the album, it’s a love letter to a certain era and scene in American music. Not to forget a couple of hugely influential Canadians also. She has two songs to back it up, which doesn’t make it feel exploitive.

The closing track is called ‘Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have but I have it’. This is a song that focuses on depression:

I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown… 24/7 Sylvia Plath…

Sylvia Plath was a poet, novelist and short story writer. She was clinically depressed most of her life and was treated multiple times with electroconvulsive therapy. She died by suicide in 1963 at the age of 30.

Writing in blood on the walls… ‘cause the ink in my pen don’t work in my notepad… don’t ask me if I’m happy, you know that I’m not… but at best I can say I’m not sad…

The piano playing is very subtle here. It seems to serve as a mood piece to compliment her words. Not once does the music rise to any sort of crescendo, keeping a mournful tone throughout. Though the lyrics could also be classed as such, she does get her message across about having hope.

Does Lana Del Rey’s latest album justify the hype? It’s one of the best albums of the year.

Verdict: 8/10

Songs worth putting on repeat: ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’, ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ and ‘Venice Bitch’.

FIB Benicássim continued their 25th anniversary with Lana Del Rey headlining day two.
Lana Del Rey during her headline performance at FIB Benicássim earlier this year.

Earlier this year we caught Lana Del Rey at FIB Benicassim, as she rounded out day two of the festival. Click here to read our review of her headline show.

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