Album Review/ Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!

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By Sophie Brown, PhD Chemistry

An undeniable female figure at the forefront of modern music, Lana Del Rey has worked alongside Jack Antonoff to produce her 5th studio album, β€˜Norman F*cking Rockwell’.

Despite her fair share of negative press – her work previously rebuked as antifeminist, with her exaggeratedly submissive character – Del Rey has returned with renewed energy, whilst maintaining her distinct flair and creative integrity. Indeed, for those anticipating the caricatured siren of self-destruction, the lyrics for her opening tracks instead give a more defiant and hopeful tone of female authority. Dissimilar to the hopelessness conveyed in previous albums, the same contrived mock-fragility that provoked Del Rey's harsher critics has somewhat dissipated. NFR delivers a more sincere and raw portrayal of the highs and lows of love, whilst the luxurious orchestration and lamenting qualities of Del Rey's unique style are maintained.

Del Rey’s usual abundance of imagery for iconic aspects of American culture extend far beyond the album's title. Nostalgic references to 70s bands (Led Zeppelin, The Eagles), direct song titles (the likes of Bowie, Doris Day), and west coast locations are to name but a few; NFR is a canvas on which Del Rey deftly paints a vivid landscape of Californian heat and cultural vibrancy.

Delving into deeper layers of NFR, a politically charged undertone is palpable. Hints of scepticism and dismay at America’s current political climate signal the dissolution of Lana's romanticised image of the American dream, lending the album a refreshing realism. 'The greatest' presents perhaps the most thought-provoking material. Expressing nostalgia for the beauty of American culture in decades gone by, the air of cynicism is unmistakeable in the last few lines of the singer's sultry musings: β€œKanye West is blonde and gone” referring to the rapper's controversial political stance regarding Donald Trump's presidency; β€œI hope the live stream's almost on”, an intentionally ironic line, illustrating the impatience of 21st century media that lacks the same charm of rock n' roll eras of music production.

'Doin' time' revamps a modern classic made famous by Sublime, with Del Rey's naturally jazz-influenced vocals reinfusing the melody with hints of its original Gershwin roots. With the transformation of Nowell's raps into a sultry melodic line and its laid-back groove, this certainly makes a worthwhile addition to the tracklist. β€˜Cinnamon girl’ contrastingly creates a building suspense and demonstrates Del Rey doing what she does best: a stormy atmosphere of synths and lush string orchestration paired with haunting lyrics. A sound that harks back to some of her best-loved tracks from her debut, β€˜Born to Die’.

The album holds more clarity and structure than 2017’s β€˜Lust for Life’, which offered seemingly unconnected collaborations with a disjointed feel that made it a challenging listen. This is not the case for NFR. From the intricate intertwining of lyrics paying tribute to key musical influences and deftly woven references to her own previous work; to the subtle ebb and flow of musical development and experimentation on lengthier tracks such as β€˜Venice Bitch’; Del Rey has created a fluid movement that makes for effortless listening. One may hope to pick out a standout track - NFR instead gives something less tangible but by no means less significant. Indeed, this album presents a moody collection of musings connected with a creative coherency that hasn't always been evident in Del Rey's previous work.

Norman F*cking Rockwell expresses the full range of Del Rey’s undeniable capability, creating a brooding and cinematic set of tracks. This album is likely to attract both Lana del Rey's diehard fans and new listeners alike.

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