Lana Del Rey has been the queen of nostalgic Americana dream tracks since the 2012 release of her immensely popular Born to Die, and this album is no exception to her well-known aesthetic.
With Norman F*cking Rockwell!, she paints her most vivid mid-century California fantasy thus far. Her full album was released on August 30, 2019, but Del Rey has been dropping tracks here and there since September 2018. It has been quite the wait for the full album among her cult following, who originally speculated and expected a May or June 2019 release date.
The album takes from many iconic 70s influences. “The Greatest” opens with piano very reminiscent of something that would come from Elton John. She also borrows titles from Neil Young (“Cinnamon Girl”) and Joni Mitchell (“California”), and as usual she scatters her favorite pop culture references in every track. Jack Antonoff who also recently produced Taylor Swift’s new album Lover, produced Norman F*cking Rockwell!. Despite being a well-renowned producer for many pop artists, he lets Del Rey’s unique style shine through as it should.
Some of her best tracks on the album are “Venice B*tch,” “The Greatest,” “Cinnamon Girl,” and “California.” In “The Greatest,” Del Rey gets the most political yet. She sings, “Hawaii just missed that fireball / LA is in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blond and gone / ‘Life on Mars’ ain’t just a song.” “The Greatest” is overwhelmingly nostalgic as Del Rey recalls her life before fame. A time where she went by Lizzy Grant and sang for small groups of people at bars and clubs in New York, which she also mentions as something she misses deeply. This album is the most piano-heavy of her albums. “Bartender” is especially piano-heavy, being a piece with just Del Rey and the piano. The piano keeps the album intimate as such a personal example of self expression should be.
“Venice B*tch,” my personal favorite on the album, could be best described as an epic, standing at nearly 10 minutes long. The song is a fond recollection of one’s past, but at the same time a hopeful cry for the future. Most accurately, it is an ode to the present. It seems to veer from its train of thought at times, which it does beautifully. It seems as if something new could happen each time it gets lost in sections of psychedelic guitar, which are then broken up by unmistakable Lana lyrics like, “Ice cream, ice queen / I dream in jeans and leather / Life’s dream, I’m sweet for you.”
While her 2017 Lust for Life album sounded more modern, utilizing electronic trap-esque sounds, Norman F*cking Rockwell! resembles more of her earlier albums like Ultraviolence, which was realeased in 2014. Del Rey has come to perfect her craft by using the best components from her previous works. Hearing the similarities from her earlier work, only added to the nostalgic and blissful haze one may find themselves in when listening to this album.
This album is a story being told from an undeniably more mature and level-headed point of view.
This album is a story being told from an undeniably more mature and level-headed point of view. Del Rey mesmerizes by channeling her classic sound, while also displaying a lot of growth as an artist. It becomes most obvious in the change in her lyrics. In the track “Off to the Races” from her album Born to Die she sings, “I’m not afraid to say that I’d die without him / Who else is going to put up with me this way?” One of the central themes in Lana’s earlier albums was her dependency and helplessness when it came to her relationships. There was a consistent tone of drama and danger in how she described her relationships, and that was part of what made those albums so exceptional.
People were able to relate to the self-deprecating and fatalistic lyrics in her previous album, yet she grows out of it here effortlessly to create an album just as good, where she finally has control and comes off as much wiser.
Del Rey’s album at first listen seems whimsical, yet at the same time very classic and comfortable in it’s own style, not unlike a painting by her album’s namesake, Norman Rockwell. Norman Rockwell was known for depicting American culture through painting everyday American life. One can appreciate that Del Rey named the album after him perfectly encapsulates life in America today, a topic which Lana is incredibly familiar with. Overall, Norman F*cking Rockwell! is a fantastic album for the climate of 2019.