Review: Lana Del Rey — Norman F***ing Rockwell!

Categories:  Opinions    Music    The Arts
Thursday, September 12th, 2019 at 5:35 PM
Review: Lana Del Rey — Norman F***ing Rockwell! by Natalie Wiepert

★★★★★

As Lana Del Rey herself said, “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” is “some deeply introspective, thoughtful sad girl sh*t.” Although, there is a relatively hopeful tone — even if sometimes sad. This sixth studio album is a significant one for Del Rey on the charts, peaking at number three this week on the Billboard 200. 

It seems like a lot of people are recognizing her authenticity with this record, but I would argue that she is as genuine as she always has been. She’s simply grown as an artist and defined her sound. There’s a wisdom here that had yet to be uncovered in other projects. Her vulnerability shines through without coming across as fragile. 

She doesn’t shy away from how she is feeling on this album, and she doesn’t keep you guessing. Del Rey isn’t afraid to call out a “blonde and gone” Kanye West, or refer to her former lover as a “god damn man-child.” Her lyricism is so incisive and distinct here, even those who aren’t fans should begin to take her seriously as an artist. 

“Mariners Apartment Complex,” the first single Del Rey released, is arguably one of the most beautiful songs she’s written. “You took my sadness out of context at the Mariners Apartment Complex” seems like a possible reference to her 2014 interview with The Guardian, which took place at the Maritime Apartment Complex. In the line, “I f—ed up I know that but Jesus, can’t a girl just do the best she can,” Del Rey notes in exasperation how quick people have been to judge her for things she said or did “out of context,” even when doing her best to get along like everyone else. 

With this album, Del Rey probably doesn’t care much about what the critics think of her anymore. Instead of choosing a short pop song that could fit well in mainstream radio, she dropped “Venice Bitch” as a single. The track is a 10 minute psychedelic rock song for those who “just wanna drive around and get lost in electric guitar,” as Del Rey said in a conversation with Zane Lowe on Beats 1 after its premiere. 

An ode to Sublime, Del Rey made “Doin’ Time” into a sultry summer bop. And the music video of her as a giant stomping around Los Angeles doesn’t disappoint. She has also confirmed there will be a video for every song on the album.

“Love song” and “Happiness is a butterfly” might remind any long time fans of her May Jailer/Lizzy Grant days due to the simplicity of the piano/guitar combo taking a backseat to her vocals. That’s not to say there isn’t amazing production value here — Jack Antonoff knows how to make a great record. The last minute of “Cinnamon Girl” is proof of that. 

Del Rey is able to transcend her sound while staying true to her core, often making nods or notions to her past work. “Topanga’s hot tonight” is sung in a hopeful and almost falling-in-love kind of tone, instead of describing Charles Manson and his cult writing in blood on the walls and drug use, as on “Lust For Life.” She sings, “Baby remember I’m not drinking wine, but that cherry Coke you serve is fine” in “Bartender.” Del Rey has been fairly open about her struggle with alcohol as a teenager and most of her early music was about the wilder kind of life she led when she was younger. She often talks about how her life has calmed down since that time. 

Much of this album tells the story of love, both lost and found. Still, there are some introspective thoughts on the world we’re living in today — evidenced on “The greatest” and “hope is a dangerous thing,” in particular. You know, we are not a Norman Rockwell painting. Unlike previous work, this album doesn’t paint a nostalgic vision of the American dream. Instead, she masks feelings of frustration with optimism at her most sincere and confident. And then of course, the “men are trash” theme gets covered too. 

As discussed on Were You Even Listening, “Norman F***ing Rockwell!” is a powerful representation of what it's like to get everything and nothing all at once. The hypocrisy of Hollywood, the longing for Hallmark greeting card love and a lack of certainty in the face of fear. It feels like amid everything is a reassuring tone and longing for acceptance that anyone can identify with.

Standout tracks: “Venice Bitch,” “Cinnamon Girl” & “Bartender.” 

Stream the album below: 

Natalie can be reached at edinboro.wfse@gmail.com. 

Tags: review, music

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