Posts Tagged ‘pop’

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Album review ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ – Lana Del Rey.

Roll back 7 years to 2012. Lana Del Rey has had a hit with ‘Video Games’ and followed it with ‘Blue Jeans’. Her debut album as Lana Del Rey ‘Born to Die’ has stormed the charts both here and in the US. In the US, it stays on the Billboard top 100 for over 300 weeks, making her only one of three female artists to ever achieve this. (the others being Adele with ‘21’ and Carole King with ‘Tapestry’)

Her music has a singular vision and here is an artist who was like the anti-Katy Perry, the polar opposite of the feel-good bouncy pop of ‘California Girls’. Calling your album ‘Born to die’ isn’t exactly an invitation to a beach party.

Lana Del Rey created a sonic twilight world where she’s on a kind of road trip of self-discovery and carnal longing. Dennis Hopper might even turn up at some point. It’s sexy noir pop in other words, with a slightly twisted psychological undercurrent. There is an unease in this Lana world. The Prom Queen gone to the dark side? Maybe.

Lana appealed to everyone from moody teenage girls, to indie rock guys and middle aged perverts. Her voice is more of a coo in your ear on the pillow, like she is singing just for you and the effect is intoxicating. It really helped that she had an image too that perfectly mirrored the music. In her own words ‘a gangster Nancy Sinatra’. Younger fans might have to google who Nancy Sinatra was, but to the rest of us old enough to remember the Banana Splits and when Batman was on TV, we got the vibe exactly.

And then, everybody started to ask ‘Who is she and where does she come from and how did she get here on the radio, on TV and bust the internet on youtube?’

As with all seemingly out of the blue successes, the trolls started to research Lana’s past and soon were accusing her of being a manufactured hype who was bank-rolled by her rich father. Here was a total faker who was an invented persona, a calculated corporate career whore and us real music fans were all being –shock horror – duped by her.

I read all of this after the fact of hearing her music for the first time and not having any pre-existing bias. The first words that came into my head on reading what a fake Lana Del Rey was, were ‘David Bowie’. He too had built a career on inventing different personas. He too had stirred up similar criticisms of ‘is this real music or is it a kind of theatrical put on?’ And my next thought about the lack of authenticity charges against Lana Del Rey was ‘so what?’ When did authenticity ever matter in rock and pop music except to beery old pub rockers and boring anti-image musos?

Pop and rock has always been about fantasy, about creating alternative realities, about taking you out of yourself and your surroundings. It’s not real and it never has been.

And Lana Del Rey does just that, like so many others before her – takes you somewhere else and out of yourself.

For me, I admit I hit a ‘bored with Lana’ wall with her third album ‘Honeymoon’. After the compelling ‘Ultraviolence’ album before it, this album to me was Lana-by-numbers and apart from a few tracks, more or less passed me by and the CD ended up in a box in the back of my car, never to be re-visited.

However, her last album ‘Lust for Life’ drew me back in again and there was definitely a shift of mood on this album. Maybe Lana wanted to cheer up. Just a little bit. She was even smiling on the cover, but of course, smiling in a creepy Karen Carpenter type of way. Or was I reading too much into it?

Now, we’re five albums in and the authentic or artificial arguments are now more of a mumble in the corner, as Lana Del Rey has outclassed and outlasted most of her critics.

So what’s her new album ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ like?

I bought the album before I read the reviews (which I’ve since been pleasantly surprised have been overwhelmingly positive) and find this to be another blissed out road trip through pop culture references and glamorous despair, only this time, the sound and stylings are impeccably refined. The songwriting is more honed and nuanced; this is an artist in total command of her craft and rolling it out with confidence and ease. The lines she writes and sings sometimes come with an arch wink of the eye. She knows we know. And she knows what her audience wants from her. It’s a whole lotta Lana in other words, with a deep and richly layered production. Her singing on this album is fantastic; she stretches out words playfully and puts in little extra trills. It is the sound of a singer enjoying and loving what she does.

The stand out track for me out of the album’s really strong opening three tracks has to be ‘Venice Bitch’. In this, she maxes out the Lana-isms with a sweary opening line that comes across as more tongue in cheek than edgy. The rise to the chorus is one of the best vocal lines she’s ever come up with. It has a lift to it that echoes some vague and hazy radio memory of 60s pop. That’s the thing with Lana Del Rey – she somehow manages to straddle the border between the mega-pixel present and the black and white past. ‘Venice Bitch’ also has a long play-out which I can only describe as a kind of psychedelic dub. It’s something she’s never done before and it works a treat. For almost ten glorious minutes, this is her fuck it, I’m going to let this one run and run moment.

Elsewhere on the album, from beginning to end, we get Lana is your angel, Lana is your femme fatale, Lana is your ‘man’ (in ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex) Lana is your whatever-you-want-her to be. This is an actress with a well-rehearsed script but it’s ok, she can improvise some scenes and see where it goes.

‘Love song’ starts with the Lana-come-hither line of ‘In the car, in the car on the back seat, I’m your baby’ and it’s the Lana seduction scene of lonesome sounding piano, hushed vocals in the front of the mix and a dream-pop chorus that is not unlike anything she has done before, but it’s now something she does so well and you still want more of it.

Another track worth mentioning is ‘Doing Time’. I didn’t realise that this is actually a cover version of a song by Sublime, who I have to admit I’d never heard. This track is the most breezy and casual on the album and stands out as being stylistically opposed to the rest of the album but is a welcome frivolous diversion.

‘Next best American Record’ is a later in the album highlight, starting with a simple sparse guitar riff and building to a lush chorus that lifts itself out of the neon gloom of the verses. The lyrics are perhaps personal, perhaps fantasy – who cares? The words name-check Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’ and once again, Lana probably realises us pop culture spotters are listening in. Is this calculated nostalgia or is it just an image of a living loose, dope-happy time? Again, who cares? I don’t need authenticity anyway. I don’t need autobiography. It’s a vibe and it feels good. You’re either in the car with Lana or you’re on the road-side.

So how does this album rate alongside her others?

If you bought or heard her last album ‘Lust for Life’ I suppose you could say that this new album lacks the light and shade contrasts of its predecessor, yet this album has a consistency about it that makes it one of those albums that the longer you stay with it, the more rewarding it becomes.

‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ then is a triumph overall but it also feels to me like Lana Del Rey is at the peak of her noir pop stylings and where she goes next should be interesting.

So Lana, when are you going to make a weird cosmic country album? I think it would really suit you.

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