By Jaylynn Williams
A small arrangement of string instruments opens the title track of Lana Del Rey’s fifth album, Norman F-ing Rockwell! The small orchestra increases in volume as it adds more instrumentation into the mix, creating an ethereal, almost dream-like quality. The crescendo of sound ultimately results in the abandonment of the strings completely, replaced by a lone piano. “G-d d-mn, man-child,” is how Lana begins, a funny quip befitting for a song about a narcissistic poet. This is a refreshing change for Lana, a woman whose earlier work is full of songs of lovelorn women romanticizing the lack of adoration from uncaring lovers. Lana Del Rey in the album, however, simply shrugs and declares “You’re just a man/ It’s just what you do.”
Lana Del Rey is an unusual popstar. She is an enigma, a glamorous Hollywood Starlet plucked straight from the 1960s and placed into the 21st century. She’s glamorous, oozing charm and elegance, but she also has a wild side. Her free spirit attracts broken men with a penchant for sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Staying true to herself, this album embodies the mystery that is Lana Del Rey, however, listeners will be pleased to discover that Lana is a little less hard to decipher. She ended Lust for Life with the repetition of “Out of the black/ into the blue,” implying that her musical journey was heading in a more hopeful direction. With Norman F-ing Rockwell!, Lana completes her metamorphosis.
‘60s rock and counterculture permeates throughout Rockwell. There are a plethora of references throughout the album of this time period. Laurel Canyon, a prominent LA neighborhood in the 1960s that was home to Jim Morrison, Carole King, and Joni Mitchell, receives several mentions. The bridge of “Venice B-tch” finds Lana repeating “Crimson and Clover, honey”- a reference to the Tommy James’ hit of the same name, fitting for Del Rey’s 9- minute psychedelic rock song. The chorus of “F-ck it I love you,” gives The Mamas & the Papas’ cover of “Dream a Little Dream of Me” a new spin. Norman F-ing Rockwell! is a glorious mixture of folk, piano ballads, psychedelic rock, and alternative rock that is coated in 1960s California.
Jack Antonoff came on as Lana’s co-producer for the record. The former lead guitarist of the indie- rock band Fun. and frontman of the indie-pop band Bleachers has worked with the likes of Lorde, Taylor Swift, and St. Vincent. Antonoff played a vital role in producing Lorde’s Grammy-nominated Melodrama, receiving praise from the Rolling Stone for his masterful production on the album. With his talent for working with Popstars, it’s no surprise that the two are a match made in heaven. After playing Lana 10 minutes of “atmospheric rifts,” Lana was inspired for the album’s sound: “a folk record with a little surf twist,” she reported to Billboard. The production quality is a step up from previous works, finally giving the Queen of Melancholy a perfect front- to- back album. Audiences certainly learn more about her from the album, specifically that she’s still the woman who is as wild and free as the ocean, but there is a maturity to her never seen before. She has control of her narrative, proclaiming that “The darkness, the deepness” is what makes her who she is. Throughout her career, Lana has been criticized for romanticizing depression and the abuse she’s endured. Sadness is a part of Lana’s brand and she owns it; her sorrows and hardships shaped her into the person she is and as a result, the music she makes will always reflect that. “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” is a deeply personal song about her finally taking control of her life and all its ugly parts: the darkness and getting lost in this big wide world. Lana previously ridiculed a lover, blase about their behavior because “He’s just a man.” Now Lana is “your man,” a brilliant inversion to the title track. She is in charge now and is able to serve as a guide for someone else, holding their hand and controlling the crashing waves around them.
Norman F-cking Rockwell is a shattered glass heart that gets pieced back together by hope. “F-ck it I love you” is utterly heartbreaking. It’s a tale of a woman rethinking her destructive way of life told to organ arpeggiated piano and synthesized guitar. “Drink Lime, stay up ‘till dawn/ Maybe the way I’m living is killing me,” is a stab through the chest. The reverb on her voice makes for a hazy bridge, similar to the drug haze she’s under. “California” is a somber piano ballad rife of nostalgia and longing. “The greatest” sees Lana reflecting on society, a sorrowful affair. Norman F-cking Rockwell! allows Lana to be truly authentic, to be open with who she is behind the Hollywood glamor and sly smiles. The album is a sincere look at a life full of sadness and heartbreak, of drugs and sex with men who can never return her love, of a woman who suffered tremendous pain in life, but despite the hurt, embraces hardships and finds happiness within. Holding onto the happiness is difficult, Lana explains with “Happiness is a butterfly/ Try to catch it, like, every night/It escapes from my hands into moonlight.” However, hope is found at the end of Norman F-cking Rockwell!, and it is that hope that affirms that the Queen of Melancholy will do just okay.