Our Girlfriend's Back! And She's Cooler Than Ever
A track by track fan review of Lana Del Rey’s sixth studio album, ‘Norman F****** Rockwell’.
Lana Del Rey’s new album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ exceeds expectations, playing as a cohesive mixture of maturity and poeticism with a 1950s twist. Del Rey has retreated from the R&B and Hip-hop influences apparent on her last record and has gone in a direction more centered around folk sounds, country twang, and old time jazz - the latter of which is a known specialty of hers.
When listening to released singles for the album, I was a little concerned. What direction was Lana Del Rey trying to go in? Was Lana finally out of material? Had we seen the last of the Queen we loved? and then she released the full length album this week. Turns out there was nothing to worry about.
After doing a thorough listen of ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ from beginning to end, every single suddenly made sense. Each song flowed effortlessly to the next, continually giving us the Lana Del Rey we love, but with a sense of dignity unparalleled on her other records.
This is perhaps the best we have seen from the songstress since her debut album, Born to Die, in 2012. It seems as if Lana has finalized realized that she can create whatever she wants without the stunts and melodrama and as a result, the record comes across as very authentic and true to the time.
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of the listed tracks on NFR:
Norman Fucking Rockwell
Not exactly the track I was expected with title being the album’s namesake, but the song starts very strongly with the lyrics “Goddamn man child, you fucked me so good I almost said “I Love you”. Now if we all haven’t been there, you need to do a little more living. What an opening statement! The piano ballad sets the tone for the album, one a little more stripped down with melodious vocals from Del Rey. Musically, the song stays rather tame and relies more on the emotion of the vocals to create the strong effect. Not necessarily my favorite of the album, but this song opens the gateway for what’s to come and intrigues the listener to see what’s in the store for the rest of the 13 tracks.
Mariner’s Apartment Complex
Following NFR, this song makes much more sense as it pertains to its single release. Originally, as the first single for the album, I felt it was a very weak lead and to be honest, I didn’t really get it. Listening again, I still find the track to be one of the weakest on the record, but I do think the song has a sense of mellow charm. Learning that the song was about a personal experience with an ex sheds more light on the experience. As Lana said on BBC radio 1, this song is one, “[she’d] put out just to have there for [herself], but it's cool being able to share it with people too." In a sense, that is exactly what we got and that’s what gives this song its appeal. It’s exposed. Musically, this song goes nowhere for me except for some explored guitar liberalities taken towards the end. It seems to be more about the story. Not a song I plan to have on repeat, but one that I find pleasant and adds to the overall message of the album.
The first word that comes to mind is “iconic”. The play on the word “beach” and “bitch” in this song had fans going wild and was by far the strongest single released for the album. ‘Venice Bitch’ is bad bitch meets rock superstar and what results is 9 minutes of passion. There are hints of nostalgia and desire. There are moments of narcissism and selflessness. Del Rey showcases yet another example of turning a shared loved understanding into a musical experience that extends beyond the standard ballad. In fact, this song in many ways is the exact opposite. Unfortunately, the length is the song’s major Achilles’ heel. Rarely do I make it through the entirety of the song and if I am, I have either been placed into a trance (probably the desired effect) or waiting tirelessly for the song to end. I love the instrumental breakdown in this song’s last few minutes and think it brings an interesting perspective to Del Rey’s repertoire, but I do think shortening the song substantially would do the listener some good. That being said, the first four minutes of this song makes you want to keep coming back for more and more. All in all, one of the best tracks on the album.
Fuck It, I Love You
This is the closest to Lust for Life that the new album approximates. The song is very groovy and the music video only adds to this vibe. Throughout the song, Lana rides the beat and showcases her vocal versatility. What sticks out even more about the track, is the feeling of unabashed expression of opinion. ‘ Fuck it, I love you’ exists as Del Rey’s larger narrative of being tired of trying to shroud how she’s feeling; in this case about someone she has feelings for. This carefree presence pervades and honestly, I can’t help but want to move and get down a little. Of course, there is always a suggestion of despair (this is Del Rey we are talking about) and that only adds to the unique ambiance of the track. I do find the song rather repetitive, especially the chorus and musically rather void of progression, but I think the objective of the track was achieved: a straight up moody jam.
Lana’s cover of Sublime’s ‘Doin’ Time’ is one of the many reasons we love her so much. In every way, this cover is so much better than Sublime’s could ever be. Lana is sexy, confident, and simply on top of the world in this track. While the last track had an heir of somberness, this song is full on jam. The seduction of the voice in Lana’s vocal performance is omnipresent. While before, Lana has come across as the powerless victim in her narratives, here she’s in control - she both knows it, and she enjoys it. I love the jazz influence that she adds to the song, especially as the song seems to give some homage to the jazz standard “Summertime”. Of course this is a cover, so is it 100% Lana? Absolutely not, but definitely one of the better covers I’ve heard as of late.
Few can do a love ballad better than Lana Del Rey and this song showcases that yet again. From the beginning, the strings of my heart are being pulled. The lyricism in this song is unparalleled and is only intensified by the piano chords. The spoken lines in this song is wonderfully placed, emphasizing the enchantment that being in love brings. That feeling that if you were to die at that very moment, everything would be okay because of that untouchable feeling of bliss. The addition of strings and otherwise larger instrumental background really evokes the larger than life feeling of being in love. The double voiceover in the second verse when Lana urges her love to not “waste any part” of her body stands out as a moment of intimacy that brings the listener closer into the new world of Lana that she has created on the record. Love songs don’t get much better than this and I think this is one of the breakthrough tracks on the album that will go down as one of her best, in the same way that ‘Old Money’ from Ultraviolence has become.
Oh. My. God. Lana really capitalized on the feeling of connectedness the audience had from the last track and brought it home. In this song, Lana draws on elements from her first album – the reason we fell in love with her in the first place. That being said, there is new poise and a maturity exhibit throughout not only the lyrical content but musical exploration. “There are things I want to say to you, but I’ll just let you live.” is perhaps the most relatable line of the entire record and the musical accompaniment has me gasping for my next breath. “If you hold me without hurting me, you’ll be the first that ever did” screams a familiar vulnerability. The bridge to this song adds an additional depth to the already heart-wrenching lyrics, but the song really sets sail into full heartache at the instrumental chord progression at the end of the song. Suddenly, the song elevates from one of this planet to one beyond the clouds and the stars, a feeling that is almost too hard to describe. What I love most about this song, is that it doesn’t just rely on its strong lyrical content, its musical and vocal elements are just as excellent and powerful. For me, this is the best song on the record.
How to Disappear
After the high emotional intensity from the last two tracks, it’s nice to get a more stripped down track. The song is a nice listen. There are jazz influences and I enjoy the tambourine in the background. I particularly love how Del Rey sings “how to disappear” and then the resultant musical background for quick moments of reflection. The song is not one that I am thinking about after doing a full listen of the album, but it has a charm and keeps me in the state of reflection, emotion, and nostalgia that has been created from beforehand tracks. A necessary track at this stage of the album, with moderate substance lyrically.
Vocally, Lana Del Rey is much more stripped down in this song and I found that really refreshing. I feel like I’m hearing the real her and I can hear all the perfections and inconsistencies in her voice. Lana has some effortless runs throughout the song that made me rewind for another listen. That being said, I find the chorus to be a little boring, and reminiscent of some of the later tracks in ‘Lust for Life’. I wanted the song to progress a little more, but it just never got there. I can see this appealing to a lot of her fans, but for me, I just missed the connection. In some senses though, the song has character and adds to the depth of the album.
The Next Best American Record
If Lana had lost me slightly after the last track, this song brought me right back on board. Lana has a way of talking about the men she encounters in a way that wishes you had been there - as a participant or perhaps, just a fly on the wall. I find it musically very pleasing and once again, I draw on the nostalgia. We have all had those moments of being young and recklessly determined to accomplish the unsurmountable. I like how she references “Topeka’s hot”, a connection to previous allusions in other tracks; Lana’s music builds on itself, a continuation from past experiences. I also enjoy that the song is a little lengthier, giving me more time to take it all in. There are some previous tracks that I wish had a little more. Vocally, Lana does a great job of drawing me in. At times, it gets a little gimmicky especially during the end of the chorus, but this record is one I am definitely wanting to go back to for another listen.
When I listen to this song, I feel like I’m right back in that little town bar listening to someone singing their heart out for a party of 10. This song has intimacy. Lana Del Rey continues to play on the feelings of nostalgia. The chorus has a sense of emergence that is really nice and there is a sense of “coming into” that really brings the album together. The song doesn’t particularly stand out to me, but it has something powerful to say. I think lyrically, musically, and vocally, it’s a strong number from Del Rey. Also, who doesn’t love a good dig at Kanye West and current political leadership. If there is a protest song on the album, this is certainly it, although initially it didn’t strike me as one.
‘Bartender’ is perhaps the song I think lacks the most lyrical depth. Musically, it has a nice swing to it and the stuttering of the “t”s in Bartender is a very nice touch. I mean come on, we have all been at the bar when we have had too much and dumped too much on the bartender. Del Rey has fun with the track and speaks on an experience that we can relate to. It’s a nice side of Lana that we don’t get often and while it doesn’t stand out as a favorite for me, I think it deserves its place on the album. I like that the end of the track cuts off in mid-thought, further expressing the tale of the drunkard at the bar.
Happiness is a Butterfly
The album is coming to a close and as the penultimate song on the record, this song is preparing for the finale and I can feel the shift in the mood. ‘Happiness is a Butterfly’ reinforces the cohesive feeling that has been persistent throughout this entire album, which is a very hard thing to do. Unfortunately, the song itself doesn’t do too much for me. I think Lana gives a solid vocal performance and musically, it has some moments, but in the same way that I had a hard time connecting with ‘California’, I am having the same problem here. The issue is that I missing the rawness that ‘California’ gave. I also thing that the line “happiness is a butterfly” doesn’t have the same ring it the same way that the other track names provided in their respective songs. Sets up for the next track really strongly though.
Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it
I really love what this song stands for. In a world filled with so much division and inequality, Lana Del Rey takes a real stance here. Lana has often spoken in previous records about the feeling of powerlessness that is part of the woman experience and I find it incredible that here, she continues the narrative. There is a new element of feminism in this song not explicitly vocalized by Lana in her music, and for many of the women who follow her, this song stands as one of empowerment. The song is incredibly raw and stands as a great way to end the record. There is nothing exciting about this record. It fully serves as a message to the public – her fans, congress, and even those who have little regard for the “culture”.