Since she became the leader of every moody teenager with an internet connection and a tumblr account way back in 2011, Lana Del Rey has had a tendency to romanticize certain things. Whether it’s toxic relationships, daddy issues or both, Del Rey’s lyrics been enamored by many things in the decade since she reached the upper echelon of pop stardom. But perhaps nothing has captured her imagination quite like America. Each and every release of Lana Del Rey’s career has found some way to pay tribute to her home country, from Golden Age Hollywood glamour on Born To Die to 70s sunkissed coolness on Ultraviolence. But, make no mistake, Del Rey has always been a coastal girl, painting vivid pictures of her beloved California while occasionally taking a direct flight to the Big Apple. That is until now.
One of the most interesting things about Del Rey’s seventh major-label studio album is a shift in perspective. Del Rey has always regarded America with a loving, yet slightly sarcastic glorification. Behind every Jackie O roleplay, there was a glint in her eye. Behind every biker gang road-trip, there was a smirk. On Chemtrails Over The Country Club, Del Rey shifts her focus ever so slightly. Gone is the damaged young rebel with a thing for older men and the sunny beaches of LA. Del Rey even has the audacity to sing the line “I’m ready to leave LA,” something an earlier iteration of her would have deemed blasphemous. Instead, Del Rey channels her southern housewife, looking back at life with a jaded nostalgia.
Album opener “White Dress,” is perhaps one of Del Rey’s most interesting songs, reflecting on her youth: “Down at the Men in Music Business Conference // I felt free ’cause I was only nineteen,” She screams in falsetto, “It made me feel, made me feel like a god.” Dey Rey’s vocal performance is so unique, pushing to heights that feel just right and too much all at the same time. Elsewhere, Del Rey pushes the boat out slightly more on ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak,’ where her vocals are all dressed up in wonky auto-tune while taking a trip to the bible belt to “Find your way back to my bed again // Sing me like a Bible hymn.”
On the rest of Chemtrails Over the Country Club, Del Rey draws back all experimentation, replacing the grandeur of her prior releases with a muted, minimalist landscape. ‘Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost” feels like Del Rey phoning it in like never before, with painfully lazy lyrics that feel destined to caption a million white girls’ travel Instagram posts come Summer: “Not all those who wander are lost… // it’s just wanderlust.” She sings of leaving Calabasas on the pretty “Wild at Heart,” which samples Del Rey’s own “How To Disappear,” while referencing Princess Diana. Abandoning all subtly, Del Rey is also joined by Zella Day and Weyes Blood to cover Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” mere moments after singing of “coverin’ Joni” on the records penultimate track. Somehow, despite Del Rey overtly channeling Mitchell’s sonic aesthetic for the entirety of the record, the cover feels out of place here. Perhaps because it actually had something interesting to say?
All in all, Chemtrails over the Country Club is by no means a bad album; Lana Del Rey doesn’t have it in her to make a bad album, in part because of her talent but also because she never strays far from the sound that made her a star. That being said, it is nowhere near the level of her best work. The brilliance of Del Rey is her ability to glamorize almost anything to the point that even the most logical of us can question our thinking. Perhaps that’s the issue; Chemtrails over the Country Club strips Del Rey of her glamour, production, and her sarcastic wink, leaving us with some pretty words set to pretty music, and if there is one thing Del Rey has proved in her decade reign as the queen of alternative, she is not the type to be satisfied simply being pretty.
Featured Image: Instagram (@lanadelrey)