[Review] Lana Del Rey's 'Norman Fucking Rockwell' Thrills, Chills, And Definitely Fulfills

Updated: Mar 6


Lana Del Rey is no stranger to the horror genre, having appeared on soundtracks for "American Horror Story: Freak Show" ("Gods and Monsters," sung by Jessica Lange on the show) and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark ("Season of the Witch"). When her haunting, dreamlike vocals aren’t stirring up feeling in soundtracks, they are crooning of days gone by, of fast cars and her home state of California. Such is the case with Norman Fucking Rockwell (also known as NFR!), Del Rey’s sixth studio album. Across its fourteen tracks, she covers many of her signature lyrical themes, her voice soaring over the production and instrumentation of her collaborator Jack Antonoff.

Opening the disc is the title track, with its simple piano riffs and light orchestration allowing Lana’s vocals to stand out above all else. Just as the titular Rockwell illustrated the Saturday Evening Post for several decades, his work mirroring the state of American culture, Lana sings about what is to come, and how things are changing right before her eyes. The vocal improv at the end of the song is a wonderful finishing touch on what is an equally wonderful opener.

"Mariners Apartment Complex" is a song to get absolutely lost in. Its lyrics focus on the persona and their love interest agreeing that while they’re both damaged goods, they get along so well because of it. The music is a dreamscape of psychedelic proportions, and it makes for another great track.

"Venice Bitch" is an epic ballad, clocking in at nearly ten minutes long. The title track of a mini EP that released ahead of this record, it is a guitar-driven track that, as the singer herself describes, one could drive and get lost in. The acoustic guitar powering this track is paired with a couple of guitar solos that add to the allure of this showstopper of a song.

The lyrics take a darker, bleaker turn in "Fuck It I Love You," as Lana ponders mortality and what happens at the end of one’s time on this mortal coil. While it is one of the faster songs, it is perhaps the mellowest, with a subdued percussion track and a low guitar track adding atmosphere.

"Doin’ Time" brightens things back with an arpeggio and Lana’s lower range. This song sounds like it could be in a movie or television trailer. The track is a cover of a Sublime track, which is itself a cover of a track from the opera Porgy and Bess (the more you know, I suppose). The track fits into the overall themes of this record (California, summertime, cruising in a car, and so on), and it is a catchy tune after the uneasy previous track.

"Love Song" is quintessential Lana. Her dancing around her vocal midrange, singing about love in its purest forms. The words of "Cinnamon Girl" (no, not that "Cinnamon Girl") are about a wishy-washy lover, and how their actions leave a funny taste in one’s mouth. "How to Disappear" sounds like an old-school slow song, its lyrical content about an overbearing partner, closing a sort of trilogy of straight-up love songs found in the center of this record.

"California" is a love letter to her favorite state of the contiguous forty-eight, as Lana shows off a good portion of her vocal range here. Her desire of the American romance is palpable throughout this track, longing for an old friend to come back and go back to the way things once were between them.

"The Next Best American Record" is another love letter, this one to the olden days of rock and roll. With references to rock gods like Led Zeppelin and The Eagles, this track croons on as only Lana can. The rock references continue in "The Greatest," as Lana name-dropped The Beach Boys and references David Bowie’s "Life on Mars" in a rose-tinted glasses sort of manner. Del Rey portrays herself as an old soul, and that persona is never more on display than here in "The Greatest."

"Bartender" may have one of the catchiest choruses in Lana’s music, this side of "Gods and Monsters." The piano dances across this song, as Lana’s vocals remain ever so slightly reserved, not going too powerful or high for the track. Just as the cherry Coke in the chorus of this song brings her enough satisfaction, so does the butterfly in the penultimate track of NFR!, "Happiness Is A Butterfly." The chorus is another one that stuck with me long after the first listen, as Antonoff’s piano guides this hopeful song along.

"Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman To Have - But I Have It" fakes the listener out with a soundalike verse, giving me reason to think Lana interpolated Chris Isaak’s "Wicked Game" into the track and changed the key. While the line in the chorus about a “black narcissist” could have a racially-charged reading, I would suggest it could be something more in the vein of Dexter Morgan’s "dark passenger," but the eye of the beholder and such.

Norman Fucking Rockwell is Lana Del Rey’s best work since Born to Die, hands down. She has evolved, her lyrics have turned from melancholy and miserable to hopeful yet cautious. This album is a must-hear in my book.

NFR! is now available for purchase via Polydor Records.

#LANADELREY #NORMANFUCKINGROCKWELL

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