Review: Norman Fucking Rockwell!

The opening of Lana Del Rey’s latest album is so, so promising. “God damn, man-child” hints at a humour; a self-aware nature and reference to past lyrics. It teases you, and seems to offer a new presentation of an expected topic. And yet, the album falls back into the same predictable patterns and sonic choices that the artist seems unable to move away from. This could be seen as musical cohesion at its finest, or as simply growing very, very boring.

Within the first minute and a half of Norman Fucking Rockwell! we have two iconic lines dropped; it really is hard to tell whether “you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you'” or “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news” is the most worthy of applause. The latter in particular is a line I wish I could personally paste on billboards and have hand-delivered to a multitude of people. Throughout the album there are plenty more quotes that fans are plucking out and revering, even if they are cliches that most of us would cringe at if removed from this context. We hear these two initial lines and smile; maybe the rest of the album will continue with this brilliant, humorous tone.

‘Fuck it I love you’ is a standout, with a refrain and tempo so unique and brilliant for her discography that the track immediately slots itself into a list of the best of her singles. The video is predictable but beautiful regardless; a vintage, retro tint to the singer surfing and singing in a quiet bar. ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it’ is also an alluring track, catching the listener right around the heart with its gentle piano and gorgeous lyrics: it stuns, and is the perfect end to an album.

However, plenty of tracks are entirely forgettable. ‘Love song’ is more boring than beautiful, and ‘Cinnamon Girl’ seems to be written in the exact same formula. Lana Del Rey’s music is sad, and sometimes this is done beautifully well, such as when one thinks of ‘Video Games’ or ‘Young And Beautiful’. However, six albums later we’ve had so many fillers thrown at us that many of the less intense fans are starting to lose interest and grow bored. ‘California’ might develop into a beautiful, interesting track, but I couldn’t force myself to listen to more than half of it in an attempt to find out. ‘The Greatest’ also blends into this indistinguishable lump of songs, that we’ve already seen a hundred odd times from her.

Many see this refusal to change as an admirable thing; as a reason why she remains so great. Some have labelled it as a deliberate cohesion, and a strong knowledge of who she is as an artist. But it is possible to have a strong sense of self and still experiment with your sound and even aesthetic. It is hard to criticise Lana Del Rey without thinking of the titanic impact she has had on the culture of young people, and the artists she has helped birth. She paved the way for melancholic music; for sadness sound-tracking our summers. However, there is only a certain amount of times we can truly enjoy slight variations of the same one song, even if it may feel as though we have an obligation to respect her influence.

Lana has been criticised throughout her career for the quite pathetic attitude her persona shows towards the men she is involved with, and Norman Fucking Rockwell! falls heavily back into this pattern. “Why wait for the best when I could have you” is just one of the lines in the album that is difficult to listen to; by 2019, it seems incredibly out of place among the modern mantra and realisation that women are worth far more. But perhaps that is the charm. Lana Del Rey built her image around a timelessness; a nostalgia that may seem backward, and this old-time aura is undoubtedly a huge part of the album’s foundation.

Lana knows her branding well and doesn’t stray from it. Jeans and leather, being desperately in love, America. Her music remains melancholic, wistful, and largely slow in pace, and the aura of all this is unquestionably beautiful, and was intriguing and captivating for the first few albums. If you feel like crying and need a soundtrack, this album is admittedly one of many that would do a good job. But it is a huge effort to listen through the entire thing unless you are a committed, in-love fan: the album is repetitive and tedious, and as an artist, Lana Del Rey has refused to progress in any way.

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