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Norman F*****g Rockwell!

"Lana Del Rey"

Sep 27, 2019

Lana Del Rey Reaches A New Peak As A Poet Of S. XXI

Written by @FerSP from Fernando Sempere / 15 mins read

At this point Lana del Rey has little to prove. Almost a decade ago she decided to pose as an elegant bird on our world and expand her wings with sensual and intimate songs. Moving with extreme naturalness between the disparity of romanticism and tragedy, she began to captivate the world with the ease with which a sweet aroma would. Soon she positioned herself in the music industry, creating a niche of her own nothing exploited to date. Crown of flowers in hand, it cost her little to be adored by millions of fans, becoming a melodic goddess thanks to her voice and music reminiscent of a glamor of yesteryear. With a cold and distant attitude, the union between the most tender fragility and fierce sexuality were present in his personal songs. After five studio albums (yes, I count Paradise), Lana enjoys an omnipresent position. Lizzy Grant is an artist who has managed to get away from the trivial and commercial, and can fly free around the world without a master to obey, bypassing musical rules. The New Yorker is allowed not to follow any trend and everything falls on a fine and feminine instinct. By modulating her voice, whispering or simply sighing she is able to get our attention, to evoke our own teenage dreams. It seems that Lana has lived for a long time in a constant American film, those of towns full of houses with porch, overwhelming heat, passionate love, excesses and small follies. If we look back, doesn't this remind us of any of her first video clips? The rebellion that takes hold of the naive and innocent girl. But now we discovered that this disobedience lived asleep in Lana and only needed something or someone to wake her up. Now, with Norman Fucking Rockwell!, her sixth album, the artist decides to return to that American dream town in an improved way. Baptized with the name of an American artist famous for his customary images, Lana will follow her trail of creating everyday female characters with every bit of her personality. On the cover of this project, in the purest Rockwell style, Del Rey reaches out to us, hoping we will take it and thus have the pleasure of accompanying her on her deepest journey.

The first songs: a winning trio.

Continuing with the aforementioned cover, picturesque elements of the universe Lana Del Rey appear portrayed: the artist is fragile, with some concern in the arms of a man, the eternal pillar of which she never knows whether to move away or cling. Both aboard a ship heading to the high seas, leave the city of Los Angeles in the distance. Of course, the American flag flies with pride, or so it seems. Does she intend to give us some clue with this? Effectively. That young girl returns home after a long season. Norman Fucking Rockwell! is the return to that wool of beautiful sleepy and intimate melodies that we discovered with “Video Games” and the album to which this song belongs. But the transformation given in these 8 years lies in a simple change of position: Lana, who has always cried at the mercy of her loved ones, decides to jump from the passenger seat to the pilot and take control of her Cadillac. Just listen to the first sentence that opens this rich project: “Goddamn, man-child / You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you”. A phrase as rough as poetic that contrasts with the sweet story melody produced by a piano, which will accompany Lana throughout this walk. This is the song that gives its name to the album, where Lana deploys all her artillery based on strings and harps. This song serves to summarize the spirit of the album: the sounds become more minimalist and intimate, with beautiful melodies that accompany a lyricism as beautiful and witty as blunt. In this way, the New Yorker will sing about her usual themes: wild times, parties, the past, dreams that were not fulfilled, loves. What could have been and was not. All this through 14 songs that take the same direction Born to die took. A winning bet. This song is followed by “Mariners apartment complex”, which we already listened as a single one year ago. This is one of the best songs of NFR! (and in the singer's career), where a soft psychedelic rock envelops you in an aura of sensitivity and romantic drama. A song that comes and goes, as if it were waves of the sea, transmitting tranquility and melancholy. Meanwhile, Lana sings about a love that has lost self-confidence. A small surprise that arises here is that when we discover the meaning of the song we discover the one on the cover of the project: “You lose your way, just take my hand / You're lost at sea, then I'll command your boat to me again / Don't look too far, right where you are, that's where I am / I'm your man.” Proof of how carefully spun this album is. And is that the attention given to every detail of each song gives maximum quality to NFR! The songs resolve themselves in a complex way and at the same time form part of a whole. The most studied is “Venice Bitch”. A sublime song that brings together a host of Del Rey brand emblems. The boldness of this song lies in its duration: almost 10 brightly resolved minutes of silky synthesizers and electric guitars in their slightest version. A song that evolves towards new horizons, moving from sweetness to desire. A semi-psychedelic trip where the singer looks back to relive her best moments with her beloved. The best song of NFR!, a risky bet that has instantly become a classic of her career.

NFR!, a universe of beautiful ballads.

Lana Del Rey may already present with the first three songs of the album the highest point of this, because the union of this trio of aces embodies the sound of NFR!, but not for this reason the rest lends itself to easy oblivion. “Fuck it I love you” stands out among the rest due to a more rapid pace thanks to the background drums and choirs that make speech run over a beautiful art. Not for this reason it is animated, the melodic chorus provides a balance that helps the gear with the rest of the themes. For its part, “Doin´ Time” returns us to the most nostalgic and mysterious Lana. A ballad worthy of her principles that reminds us of the reason why she is considered the mother of artists like Lorde or Billie Eilish. In this cover of the theme of the American band (of course) Sublime, Lana brings a totally hypnotizing reggae-eighties and more atmospheric ambient. But if there is a genre in which Lana has expanded on NFR! It is the ballad, which she takes as the general base. Our protagonist lowers the intensity to which she has accustomed us in her last works to make simplicity her weapon, letting melody and voice join in rich, simple and elegant compositions where the protagonist will be the lyric. “Love song” becomes a beautiful ode to love, where Lana whispers to her beloved “Be my once in a lifetime” with that tender and refined voice that characterizes her. A slow tempo full of references Del Rey brand (cars, fame, lovers) that transports you to a 50's movie with the ease of a sigh. It is when Lana gets ready to sing songs of this type when we can see a change in her: she sounds sincere and, above all, close. Accompanied by a change in her aesthetics (much more street/town style, leaving behind night models of Hollywood diva), Del Rey goes from transmitting an image of instantaneous perfection and composure to maximum naturalness, showing without any fear her imperfections and fears. Always serene, and always accompanied by a piano, the New Yorker shows us that she has matured. The same happens in “Cinnamon girl”, although we must not forget that Lana has always been a sad girl and good things don’t usually last long. Here, the singer reflects on her stories with men: love, sweetness, drugs, darkness and pain is what we get when listening to this ballad. With an instrumentation and sweet choirs like “cinnamon”, Lana throws a wink at one of her idols from the past: rocker Neil Young, from whom she borrows the title of the song. Del Rey, eternally in love with nostalgia and the past, is always willing to sneak little glimpses of old-fashioned music into her songs.

Quality stuffing.

Although at the beginning of Lana Del Rey's career many doubted her ability as a composer, today there are few who dare to recognize this. And I think that no one on the face of the earth will question her ingenuity after hearing Norman Fucking Rockwell! The great help of the singer when creating this project has been Jack Antonoff, the producer of this. Both have managed to give the songs a total compositional beauty, joining and spinning each element of the song, and granting a retro mist that gives many of the songs the qualification of timeless. Another proof of this grace is “How to disappear”, a strangely Christmas ballad where the singer talks about the inability to express feelings. “I watch the skies getting light as I write / As I think about those years / As I whisper in your ear” she sings, running like a poet of our time. But it is from here that everything wobbles a bit: the vast number of great ballads make this theme get lost along the way, and the same goes for “California”, a gloomy and melodic theme that despite being 100 % Lana, resonates too much to past songs (including “Cinnamon girl”). A pity that a song that drinks of the most explicit essence of Del Rey becomes eclipsed. But the singer keeps an ace up her sleeve, and this song enjoys one of the richest lyrics of the project. “You don't ever have to be stronger than you really are / When you're lying in my arms, baby”, “You're scared to win, scared to lose / I've heard the war was over if you really choose”, “You hate the heat, you got the blue”' or in the heartbreaking chorus: “If you come back to America, just hit me up.” Our protagonist exalts California, which is the epicenter and scenario chosen for the stories of this project, while longing too slowly, a romance from the past. And the same goes for “The next best american record”, initially recorded for Lust for life. A song that evolves in layers, where Lana's voice is positioned as the absolute protagonist, along with some heavenly choirs that gain strength in a heavier chorus. Does this mean that it is a bad song? Not at all. But compared to the rest, and given its long conclusion, the only thing that attracts attention is the mention of Led Zeppelin and Eagles. But as we have said on occasion, Lana would not be Lana without saving ace in the sleeve.

Will to change and poetry.

Shouldn't a person who sees her country from a reflexive and critical point of view be considered patriotic? Lana Del Rey's adoration for her country has always been more than present in all her songs and videos, making America her great lover. But in these convulsive times of change, the singer becomes judicious. It's “The greatest” song, one of the best on the album, which offers an extremely nostalgic atmosphere, where Lana cries for what her country was. A duel impregnated by a desire for change for the better. One of the most complete pieces of NFR!, where in an extraordinarily beautiful way melody, orchestral instrumentation and the voice of Lana are joined, which shines as it had not shone so far. Sounding sincerely, she says: “The culture is lit and I had a ball / if this is it, I’m signing off”. A spectacular song capable of reflecting and remembering the horizon that we should all glimpse, which it guides us with her radiant voice. It is this, modulating itself, remaining alone before the silence or giving more power to some syllables or others that takes the leading role in the final part of the album. In “Bartender”, a stutter in the chorus when pronouncing the word that gives name to the song (bart-tt-tender) offers an ingenious air. The little sister of “Love song” runs the same fate as those filler songs mentioned before and is lost after the immensity of the previous song. On the contrary, “Happiness is a butterfly” (the title can already give a hint about the poetry that hides this song), Lana returns to the field of armed ballads as a whole. A beautiful song that is picking up speed until it reaches the chorus and suddenly deflate with a “I just wanna dance with you” almost sighing. Lana sounds velvety when singing about the long-awaited happiness she is looking for, and again she shows us her skills when writing: “If he's a serial killer, then what's the worst / That can happen to a girl who's already hurt? / I'm already hurt”. Finally, in the insight “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but i have it”, Lana declares herself as the new Sylvia Path that she refers to numerous times here. Depression and that of which she is not proud take strength in this poeticized song where Lana recites verses in the most natural way possible. Between so much nostalgia the New Yorker offers us a 21st century flash: “Hello, it's the most famous woman you know on the iPad”, she says. The union between the past and the present in a voice that whispers in a sensual way how sad she can be.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! get close to timelessness.

Lana Del Rey signs with Norman Fucking Rockwell! her best album to date. Period. It seems that, in this long-distance race, the singer has set the starting point as her goal, and once reached she is ready to write her first album with the experience acquired during these years. Decanting for soft orchestral melodies gives the project an immense nostalgic beauty. Songs like “Mariners Apartment Complex”, “Venice bitch” or “The Greatest” are masterpieces that run as one of the best of her career. This project takes the piano as a best friend, where Lana embraces the ballad as the genre par excellence of this. But far from continuing to flirt with being an old actress from the golden age of Hollywood, Lana prefers to be a nostalgic woman of today. The New Yorker takes a big step forward and decides to show her flaws and mistakes, leaving aside the coldness and looking more mature and sincere. This is transmitted in all the songs, which forge a whole, resistant as a wall that surrounds an intimate and minimalist aura, leaving aside, rather reducing, the electronic guitars and psychedelic sounds that we used to in their last jobs. There are undoubtedly two clear protagonists in NFR!: The first is the voice of the singer, which slips between the sounds and instruments and takes mostly a heavenly and totally refined tone even when she wants to sound rude. The second is lyricism. From now on we can meet Lana Del Rey as a poet of the 21st century. Whether autobiographical or not, each verse grants thousands of bold, delicious, even vindictive meanings. Capable of evoking a thousand sensations as we go along; as well as countless old references that demonstrate the great cultural knowledge and devotion of our protagonist. And so it is also worthy to admire how this eternal pin-up aspirant is able to gather in a single verse past and present, just as it can embody in the same image the old glamor and the danger. And that is the reason NFR! is a record to listen to many, many times. Discovering new meanings in its lyrics and new secrets is in our hand: a whisper, a stutter, a laugh, something between you and Lana that is discovered according to the listeners and that helps the listener feel part of this quiet universe. Lana reaches out to us on her cover and if we decide to take it and let her take the helm of our sensations, the experience can be tremendously moving and wonderful. It is for all this that this album manages to move in the precious timeless terrain. And with that said little must be added. The inconvenient? The long duration of it, something that Lana always usually sins. 14 songs of which many exceed 5 minutes, and the abuse of ballads make some repetitive and filling themes. It's not about bad songs, but we find real gems in the album that diminish the brilliance of the weakest ones. If Lana had listened to the famous saying “less is more” we would be faced with something more than “her best album”. But why achieve perfection if here Lana takes pride of her defaults?