After establishing a career and going her own way in recent years, Lana Del Rey is back.
The dream pop outlier carved out a distinctive space in mainstream culture, making herself the lone representative of a self-made genre. Few can guess where this road leads and, knowing Lana, it’ll be paved with scattered memories, the color blue, and David Lynchian imagery. Some are yearning for the Black Keys-inspired “UltraViolence” sound, while others insist she’s found her true identity with the optimistic “Norman F-cking Rockwell.”
However, the latest singles reveal one thing for sure: The melancholy remains for the time being. The first hint was “A&W” and its dichotomy. Most of the track was a throwback, resembling a counter to “White Dress,” and ended with an ambient outro — the ultimate combination of both eras, before “Lust For Life” and after. A dark atmosphere, often replaced by upbeat ballads, took her sound away from “Blue Banisters.”
This leaves her fans in a dilemma. “Los Angeles” has a bright side that brings a romantic theme to her recent sound. The song is an example of hyperreality, as Jean Baudrillard described it, with tones stemming from a Rockwell painting. Overall, it’s charming and keeps her pop audience satisfied.
Also, it’s not unlike her “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” video. A positive affirmation for retro aesthetics and idealistic memories shattered by the “American Horror Story”-esque style corrupting its wholesome depiction.
Opening with a gospel song, the album made her attraction to religion more explicit than usual. Alongside a list of names on the front cover, she appears to have a Jim Morrison-like shift away from the spotlight. No longer is Del Rey exclusively interested in the teen angst vibe of “In My Feelings.” “Sweet” takes her into a mature form of introspection: a woman graduating from her 20s with ambition rather than fear, while her romanticism remains just the same.
It doesn’t stay compelling in its entirety. “Peppers” takes a step back to the “Lust For Life” era, retreating from the depth displayed earlier. “Fishtail” wanes on the orchestral tracks that got outperformed both thematically and musically by “Paris, Texas” and “Fingertips.”
It goes without saying this eclectic combination of influences keeps her isolated by mainstream standards. An affinity for religious and classical music has not been welcomed by outlets such as the Grammys if this year’s event wasn’t clear enough. Despite expanding the genre back to its romantic roots, Del Rey may still be on the outs as far as the media are concerned. Her brush-up with controversy made a cultural splash with her more vulgar contemporaries.
Being bullied by less talented people has been her uphill battle and may be the source for these low-profile album releases like “Blue Banisters.” The mainstream crowd chased her out of their ivory tower, but her music hasn’t suffered at all. Now, loyalists can expect genuine expressionism without the critics looming over her persona like vultures.
Del Rey’s appeal was never fully in tune with Billboard chart toppers. They were the flashy side of celebrity life that fought against her brand. If we consider her lyrics from the past, she openly identified as an outlier who wasn’t interested in modern tropes and, “Much less the fame.”
Nevertheless, this latest version of Del Rey should be cherished by old and new fans alike. She combines her positive synthesis of the reflective lyrics in “Chemtrails” with the eclectic flexibility of “Blue Banisters.” Will she continue to enlighten young minds and find ancient romanticism once again? We shall see.