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Fuck it, I love ‘Normal Fucking Rockwell!’ (Album Review)
Lana Del Rey is back! Queen of feels, romantic, hopeless lyrics and singing on tire swings. Her latest album is a solid entry into her plethora of Hollywood sadcore records; juggling romanticism, cynicism and tender, fragile positivity all at once. It’s an unusual concoction, but it’s one that Lana, with her unique touch of magic, manages to make work. Lana’s fresh out of fucks to give on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, and it’s liberating, both musically and personally. On the title track, Lana opens the album with the lyric: “God damn man child, you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you'”. Yeah, this is a Lana who’s no longer fucking around. It’s less passive than her prior works; instead of taking on a role of a lovestruck Hollywood star from the 50s, she’s taking control. Her lyrics are more personal, more invasive, and the album shines because of it. Lana first teased ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ back in 2018 (seriously, why does she hate her fans? Jk.) with ‘Venice Bitch’, an almost 10-minute long track with a guitar riff slap bang in the middle. Not exactly your typical lead single. It’s this ballsy, headstrong attitude that makes ‘NFR’ such a delicious album – this is the music that Lana wants to create, and she won’t have it any other way. (Seriously, imagine her pitching that to suited and booted label executives, who just sit and hang their heads, begging her to simply drop a ‘Video Games’ 2.0 and not this weird ass 9:36 track. “And you want the album to have a swear word in the title? Lana please, you’re killing us!”). That’s the beauty of Lana, though. Instead of trying to recapture the magic of her debut ‘Born To Die’, or chase current trends in the ever-fickle music landscape, she’s gone on to create albums with hints of psychedelic rock, trap, and 70s influences, all whilst maintaining her iconic ‘Lanaisms’. She’s got an identity, she’s got a point of view. And yes, although she propelled the sad-core genre back in 2011 to the spotlight, paving the way for other sad girl singers to take to the stage, it’s never truly defined her. Rather, Lana has always defined herself. She’s always fresh, always original (‘Get Free’ didn’t deserve that slander, fight me), and her releases are a refreshing dose of bittersweet nostalgia in the world of bubblegum pop. And ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ is no exception. ‘Venice Bitch’ is a mellow, unusual mixture that you literally wouldn’t get from any artist other than Lana. It was literally made to be played on summer night road trips; scents of pine and burnt rubber filling the starry skies above. ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ (what a mouthful!) is my personal fave out of the pre-album singles. It’s a classic, timeless tune, painted with the iconic lyric: “I’ve been tearing up town in my fucking white gown, 24/7 Sylvia Plath”. She’s aware of her persona, of how she’s perceived by her fans and the media, and she is owning it. ‘Fuck it I love you’ is a classic Lana track that’d fit comfortably on any record post-‘Born To Die’. ‘The Greatest’ is an instant track-love, one that builds up to a grand crescendo of a finale. It feels like the end of all things, the anthem of a disgruntled generation. “I want shit to feel just like it used to. And, baby, I was doing nothing the most of all.” It captures the simultaneous apathetic yet worried millennial viewpoint; dressed up in a track that feels vintage – the guitars strum slowly, seductively, the drums roll and lap up like the receding tide. You can almost picture the smoke-infused recording studio the track was birthed in; big leather chairs, psychedelic carpets, overflowing ashtrays, all while Lana pours her heart and soul into the mic. The lyricism in ‘NFR’ is, as expected, beautiful. It’s honestly like opening up a book of poetry; dripping with unusual metaphors, striking imagery and thought-provoking quips. Whether she’s singing about love, demons or hope, she paints a vivid picture in the listener’s mind. “She’s never cared less, and I’ve never cared more,” she coos on ‘hope’, the pain and vulnerability oozing through every note in her wavering voice. There’s classic Lana lyrics that already sound familiar, like an old friend, the first time you hear them:”You know that I’d just die to make you proud. The taste, the touch, the way we love. It all comes down to make the sound of our love song.” And that sound is one that defines ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’. It’s got glimmers of optimism; of hopelessly romantic love, shining beneath the facade of Hollywood sadcore. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ is a highlight on the album, too. “If you hold me without hurting me, you’ll be the first who ever did,” she hums, wishing she could tell her lover her innermost thoughts. “All the pills that you take: Violet, blue, green, red to keep me at arm’s length don’t work.” There’s that usual tinge of sadness – Lana’s never going to release a 14-track album filled with bops; but it’s somehow more personal this time around. It’s as if she’s accepted her inner demons; finding some sort of peace within herself that’s reflected on the record. Even her more tongue-in-cheek lyrics: “Hello, it’s the most famous woman you know on the iPad,” bring a little bit of zest and cheek; splashing a drop of colour in the monochromatic melodramatic collection. There’s a few little quirks to be had across the album, her stuttering “bar-t-t-tender”, or the weirdly perfect cover of Sublime’s ‘Doin’ Time’. ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ has glimmers of every album she’s done so far, making it a natural progression in her sound. There’s the trap beats from ‘Born To Die’, the fragile optimism of ‘Lust For Life’, the deep sadness and sound of ‘Ultraviolence’, the experimental sound of ‘Honeymoon’. ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ epitomizes everything that Lana stands for. It’s not her most unique entry, but it’s certainly her most tangible. The record focuses mainly on love-struck ballads, complete with plenty of strumming guitars and glimmers of trap beats. By the time the record’s done with you, you’re left feeling as though you’ve just been given a little peak behind the curtain at Lana’s soul. She’s not afraid to be vulnerable, to wear her heart on her sleeve. ‘Happiness is a butterfly’, adds delectable layer upon layer of production, her voice becoming stronger, the piano becoming fiercer, until she’s singing so fiercely you can’t help but pay attention to what she has to say. There’s the (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek lyric of “If he is a serial killer, Then what’s the worst that could happen to a girl who’s already hurt?” It borders on being a little Tumblr-edgy-girl trope, but the song’s more than redeemed by her softly declaring: “Happiness is a butterfly, Try to catch it like every night, It escapes from my hands, into moonlight.” ‘NFR!’ closes with Lana coming to the realisation that “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have… But I have it.” There’s that fragile sense of happiness, that fleeting hope; sung from her icy-pure voice. Lana’s albums truly are something special. She’s never been one to compromise her authenticity – she’s more than proved that she’s not just some flash in the pan, trend-chasing pop diva – and ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ only cements her as a vital force in the music industry as we know it. She’s influenced many of the girls we love, from Marina to Lorde, focusing on a minimalist, abstract sound. On her latest record, Lana’s found her groove. By allowing both the artist and the collective to shine, while expanding on a range of themes, it just all feels right. Throughout the years, Lana’s been many things: American starlet, 60s hippie, depressed lover. ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ embraces her past; but it also paves the way for Lana and who she is now: the star of her own show. And she’s never shined brighter. For more on music, check out my review of Taylor Swift’s fantastic new album ‘Lover’, or check out what I thought of Marina’s ‘Love + Fear’. Related