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Lana Del Rey’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ Is Fucking Incredible

Written By Sam Murphy on 08/30/2019

Before you even hit play on Lana Del Rey‘s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, there’s something profound about it. With its expletive and exclamation mark, the title is bold. It’s playful too but it’s intentionally in-your-face. From the 10-minute long Venice Bitch to a song called The Greatest, Del Rey has also made it clear that she has no time for politeness this time around. While she has always been a mystery, on this record she’s giving us unfiltered honesty, inviting us into her world with a cover that asks for you hand.

Her last album Lust For Life was one for the fans. It was a feature-heavy LP that highlighted some of her most accessible work to date. Norman Fucking Rockwell!, however, was largely co-written and produced with Jack Antonoff. The result is a beautifully intimate record that puts Del Rey’s songwriting front-and-centre. Stripped of theatrics and other voices, she’s left exposed.

The opener and title track ushers us into the record with sweeping strings that dip out for piano. It’s the sort of opener you’d expect from a Billy Joel or Carole King record. “You act like a kid even though you stand six foot two,” she sings, belittling a boastful artist. Del Rey wears a cheeky smile but she’s confident. She’s so often written about relationships where she wasn’t in a position of power. On Norman Fucking Rockwell! she’s in control albeit self-doubting at points.

Del Rey has described this album as a “mood record”. It’s true to an extent. The extraordinary Venice Bitch wafts on for 10-minutes in a haze of fuzzy guitars, Fuck It I Love You plods along with surf drums and Sublime cover Doin Time moves with ease. Despite this, labelling it a “mood record” is a euphemism. Del Rey is at her most analytical, casting an eye on America, pop culture figures of past and present and her own personal relationships.

“Be my once in a lifetime,” she sings on Love Song while lying on her partner’s chest. It houses the same kind of sincerity as Video Games, isolated in a world for just her and her lover. Elsewhere, she widens that lens. On How To Disappear she laments on a future with a kid and two cats. She sounds content but quietly mournful for her past in New York.

Del Rey has always been nostalgic but at numerous points on this record she longs for her old life back. The sombre California sees her sing about an previous relationship, romanticising “old places” and all the “parties”. There’s a desperation in her voice as she sings, “if you come back to America just hit me up.” On The Greatest she long for “rock ‘n’ roll” which is a metaphor for missing “listening to music for no reason,” as she told the New York Times.

The Greatest is also the best song she’s ever written. A sweeping, acoustic guitar ballad that feels as if she could hang up her hat as soon as she’s done singing it. It’s her My Way, capping off a career far too early. This is Del Rey overwhelmed and looking for a sense of escapism. For an artist who was so often critiqued for being fame-hungry, she’s since proved that she’s always trying to get away from the limelight. Nothing captures this longing better than Bartender where she gets in a car and just drives. The bridge dances with liberation, the piano fluttering like her hair in the breeze.

You can only run for so long though and it all comes crashing down in the dying moments of the album. Album closer Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have – But I Have It was recorded with her and Antonoff in the room together. The recording is so intimate that you could hear a pin drop at any point. “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not but at best I can say I’m not sad,” she sings stirringly. On Lust For Life, she forced a smile on the cover. We all wanted her to be happy and she gave it to us. Here, she’s giving it straight. Like most of us, she reckons with her past and the state of the world on the daily. Things are changing but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s happening fast enough or at all. Del Rey will continue to try though. Many of her records in the past ended like she wanted to stop trying. Instead, she ends Norman Fucking Rockwell! with hope. It’s tentative but it’s there. Her voice sounds almost distant as she climbs octaves singing, “But I have it.” She holds on.

On Norman Fucking Rockwell! she’s not sure about anything really but she’s open to trying. Del Rey said she wasn’t planning on releasing an album until she got in a room with Antonoff and that spontaneity shows. This album, for the first time, is a real-time depiction of Del Rey’s thoughts. That paired with Antonoff’s spacious, organic production makes way for her finest songwriting to date. If you’ve wondered who the real Lana Del Rey is, this is it. And if you’re still confused, that’s the point. She’s a human being.