Norman Fucking Rockwell, Lana Del Rey
09 10

Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell! Polydor

There’s nobody who evokes America the way Lana Del Rey can. For over a decade, through a combination of classic songwriting styles and an almost supernatural gift for imagery (some blue jeans here, a fast car there), she’s made the case that she has no one but Springsteen to compete with as the great chronicler of the USA; its psyche, all its dreams. On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, her sixth album, she proves this once and for all.

America, and particularly its coasts, is as important a player on this record as it always has been for Del Rey. But the version of her that we meet on Norman Fucking Rockwell! is one who has hot-footed it across the country. She’s long quit the sharp-edged glamour of New York – the affairs, the drugs, the sparkly, sleazy Born to Die-ness of it all – for something earthier. You hear this in the lyrics (“I was one thing, now I’m being another,” she laments on Happiness is a butterfly), but mostly you feel it, in the lush expansiveness of these 14 songs.

That spaciousness comes in various forms, as you’d expect from an album that sounds like moving to a ranch where there’s nothing but the sound of your voice for acres. There’s length (all nine minutes and 37 seconds of Venice Bitch are just as head-lollingly good as they were a year ago), there’s introspection, and most especially, there’s roomy, broad production courtesy of Jack Antonoff.

Antonoff’s involvement with Del Rey and Norman Fucking Rockwell! was initially met with cynicism from some who felt he’d been too omnipresent on recent major releases (Lorde, Taylor Swift, St Vincent’s 2017 swerve into a poppier lane). To suppose this, however, was to underestimate the largesse of the Lana Del Rey aesthetic, now so well-established that no producer could dream of squashing it. Instead, Antonoff inherently understands her web of Americana influences, as it stretches here to a yet more classic-sounding place – prominent pianos, noodly rock riffs, songbook structures.

Nowhere is this place better occupied than on Love song, which is possibly the best song Lana Del Rey has ever made, so distilled is it with both her very essence (“Oh, be my once in a lifetime/ Lying on your chest in my party dress/ I’m a fucking mess”), and quintessential chord progressions which give an inevitable, timeless feel.

Indeed, musically Norman Fucking Rockwell! feels like an album built to resist time – one of those songwriters’ records that could have been made whenever: Graceland, Blue, Tapestry. Like much of Del Rey’s catalogue, however, these are also songs rooted in nostalgia: the good old days, the way she’d drink whiskey ‘til dawn and dance ‘til sunrise; when things were gilded, and better. Previously, her sometime rose-tinted glasses had felt like a well-positioned device that allowed her to conjure a mood. Now, there’s something else. Namely: real, irrefutable proof that our best days really are past us.

Because in 2019, America, the love of Lana Del Rey’s life, is burning, just like the rest of the world: “LA’s in flames, it’s getting hot,” she acknowledges on The greatest. Finally – heartbreakingly – the stakes are as dramatic in real life as the quiet tragedy of Lana Del Rey’s work has always demanded. On Norman Fucking Rockwell! she invites us to escape with her, just for an hour: to stretch out on the plains and think about love and how life used to be. You go there with her, you lie back, shut your eyes. And you think, “there are much worse ways to go.”