Review: Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rodwell!

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Lana Del Rey
Norman Fucking Rodwell!

With her masterful 5th album ‘Norman Fucking Rodwell’ Lana Del Rey acheives the American Idol status she has long emulated.

★★★★★

Lana Del Rey is something truly unique, she embodies so much more than her music. She’s grown from emulating the Hollywood starlets and aesthetics of the glamorous 50s to becoming an icon herself. She may have broken out onto the scene with ‘Born To Die’ back in 2012 but on her fifth record ‘Norman Fucking Rodwell’ she completely owns it.

With her Discography, Lana has so far managed to balance being both distinctive and unique. Every time you hear her voice, you immediately recognise that you are listening to Lana Del Rey... and that’s exactly how she wants it. However, each new project she releases still manages to feel unique, whether it’s the textures, the context, the subject matter or production that shifts how Lana manages to portray herself and her music, with ‘NFR!’ it feels as though she is at her most relatable whilst vocally sounding clearer than ever.

Originally planned for Spring, it seems the extra few months wait has paid off. From start to finish the record sounds fine-tuned and meticulously crafted around a few intertwining concepts and ideas most notably of her conflicting feelings for her home, America. The long wait, however, means some of the records strongest material we’ve already heard over 9 months ago but we’ll delve into that later on.

The record opens with its title track, not based on the actual American Author and Painter of who the album shares a name, it's instead seemingly being used as a jibe at a wannabe poet whose vying for Del Rey's affections. The tracks first verse has already dominated Twitter mentions and critic reviews. It’s a statement of intent, immediately you’re in Lana’s world, cursing alongside her “Goddamn, man-child, You fucked me so good that I almost said, 'I love you'.” This reflects perfectly why Lana Del Rey and her music, in particularly this song has had such a high appeal to young women, in the way that Del Rey manages to place art within a millennial perspective. How many times have you seen a woman rightfully call out the complexes of a modern ‘fuck boy’ on social media? usually though in much less sophisticated phrasing. She strikes a chord with young women and their experiences in a way no other modern artists have quite managed albeit perhaps Ariana Grande with this years 'Thank U, Next'.

Despite being the oldest of the pre-released singles ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ remains one of Del Rey’s finest songs. The delicate piano line and rising orchestral chords give the song an immediate luxurious presence. Throughout the record but on 'Mariners' in particular, Lana has utilised pronunciation and slight pauses in her verses to great effect, the way she extends the brooding line “I know I fucked up… but Jesus!” still gives me chills nearly a year on.

Then we get to the boldest track on the album ‘Venice Bitch’. Del Rey’s previous album ‘Lust For Life’ seemed to be at conflict with trying to appeal to both a pop audience (with more by the numbers collaborations) whilst still trying to show off Lana’s artistic flair. Whilst here on 'Rockwell' she's placed a nearly 10-minute experimental, progressive Americana single ‘Venice Bitch’ so early on, it is truly a brave statement of intent. You feel Lana is fed up of compromising and when she allows herself to just go wild with production, structure and what formula a song should take then she flourishes. Whilst starting out as a traditional Lana Del Rey single it soon transforms into something truly beautiful a third of the way through as the high pitch electric guitars whine as she softly whispers before slowly melting into a truly psychedelic jam that transports you mind to a long winding Californian summer highway, with a headphones on, this track is an experience.

What’s unique about the record though is Lana knows when to release her creativity but also when to condense it or to just simply have fun such as the brilliant cover of Sublime’s 1997 reggae single ‘Doin Time’, the originals tropical beats have been polished up for 2019 and Lana’s sultry vocals add an extra dimension to the track, also by keeping the tracks pronouns the same it manages to feel both faithful to the original and slightly more risqué at the same time. In Del Rey’s hands, it’s a modern summer bop with the raps of the original turned into silky poetry.

Perhaps the perfect middle ground between creativity and melody lies in Lana’s literal greatest single to date ‘The Greatest’. A sarcastic take on modern politics. As she lambasts Kanye West and arguably Donald Trump’s own opinion of himself, America’s self-proclaimed greatest President. She also touches upon Climate change, Hawaii’s near nuclear accidental crisis and modern social media culture whilst tying it all up in her most grandiose and beautiful vocal performance and orchestral arrangement since ‘Young and Beautiful’, It truly is her masterpiece.

The album is almost near-perfect and despite its best material being released far in advance of the album, there are still some great surprises nestled within the record. ‘Bartender’ is a joyous, Mid-Western Saloon pop song whose chorus will nestle inside your brain. ‘Happiness is a butterfly’ feels like a call back to the daring lyrical extremes of ‘Ultraviolence’, it’s both eerie and unsettling to hear Del Rey romanticise death by a brute “If he's a serial killer, then what's the worst, That can happen to a girl who's already hurt?, I'm already hurt”. This a juxtaposition to the stripped-back yearnings of ‘Love Song’. There are a couple of tracks that don’t have an instant impact such as ‘How To Disappear’ which signals a slight mid record slump but these are few and far between, and nonetheless, even an average Del Rey song is still an enjoyable listen. The album ends on the slightly indulgent ‘Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it’, an extremely powerful song which feels like a window into Del Rey’s psyche, its Lana at her most open, practically baring her soul to the world through her lyrics. 

After five albums it feels like Lizzy Grant has finally made the Lana Del Rey record she has always wanted to, it encapsulates all of the qualities and sounds that we've become familiar with over the years, yet now she has the experience and confidence to present them to the listener at points in their rawest form whilst finally allowing her vocals and therefore lyrics to truly shine above the production. I don’t believe this will go down in history as Del Rey’s creative peak, instead, I feel it’s the start of her finally being allowed the creative freedom she deserves and if rumours of a closely followed sixth record are to be believed then she’s also already well on her way to achieving that.

We last saw Lana Del Rey when she graced London’s Brixton Academy back in 2017, read our thoughts on that right here.

Lana Del Rey tours the U.K. in 2020. Find tickets here.