“Norman F**king Rockwell” achieved brilliance

The newest album from musical artist Lana Del Rey brings her career full circle, rediscovering the sound with which she started

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

“God damn, man child.” So begins Lana Del Rey’s seventh full-length studio album.

She did it. She finally made a perfect album.

“Norman F**king Rockwell!” opens with heavy piano that’s oddly reminiscent of Elton John and Carole King, both of whom Lana’s cited as heavy influences on her music. Then she sings, “You f-cked me so good that I almost said, ‘I love you'” and you realize this is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It’s a derisive, feminist tone she’s never had; in previous albums, she sings of hopeless romanticism and love of men who are older and abusive. While I don’t agree or like them, I can’t criticize these problematic themes because they served a greater purpose in Lana’s musical evolution.

“Mariners Apartment Complex” takes on a psychedelic rock sound that reminded me immediately of early Pink Floyd albums, which utilize the same vocal overlay, mixture of synth and acoustic guitars and dreamy lyricism. It’s what makes “Wish You Were Here” such a beautiful song.

The songs on “Rockwell!” take their time; “Venice B-tch” is a whopping 9:37 minutes. I’m always critical of overly long songs; it hasn’t been done well since “Jesus of Suburbia” by Green Day on their 2004 political rock opera (yes, I called it a rock opera. Don’t argue with me.) These songs have very little in common — “Venice B-tch” is simple and follows similar derivations of its original melody, while “Jesus of Suburbia” is almost 10 minutes of pure chaos. However, the techniques to make a 9-minute song work are the same. You have to tell a story — through instruments, the melody, lyrics or all three.

“Venice B-tch” switches from a simple folk-rock piano, acoustic guitar and background orchestral melody to a synth-psychedelic guitar riff that ebbs and flows. It rocks you back and forth, lulled by Lana’s soothing “Oh, god, love him on my lips … touch me with your fingertips” and remixed production. It never tries to mimic Pink Floyd or Grateful Dead, but pays homage to an era of experimental music. The song uses seamless transitions. The synth remix fades back into a Spanish-style of guitar-picking and then goes right back into more electronica noises.

By the time “Venice B-tch” ends, it feels like you’ve been swaying on the slow-moving waves off the California coast, only the water is magenta and the sun is bleeding into the sky and you haven’t even smoked any weed.

“California” and “Cinnamon Girl” actively adore the California life, reminds us this isn’t the Lana from before, singing of Lou Reed and Brooklyn dive bars. She’s evolved. She’s lonely and reflective, sad and joyous at the same time. “I wanted to reach out, but I never said a thing,” she sings of a lost friendship in “California.” Lana is simultaneously letting go of and holding onto memories of a person. “Cinnamon Girl” feels like its own ode to Stevie Nicks’ folk-rock albums of the 80s and 90s.

Lana’s not a stranger to experimental folk music. Her last album, 2017’s “Lust for Life,” utilizes folk greats such as Nicks and Sean Ono-Lennon to boost tracks like “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems” and “Tomorrow Never Came,” but it feels disingenuous. Nicks’ and Lana’s voices don’t mesh well, and while I liked “Tomorrow Never Came,” it feels like a derivative cop-out that makes no sense on an album that also includes a song about heroin.

The entire album, especially “Get Free,” with which Lana faced some legal trouble for its similarity to a Radiohead song, was another in a line of disappointments from 2014-17. The album before, “Honeymoon,” was fine, but that’s about it. It was fine. I liked “Art Deco.” That was a cool song. I like that “Art Deco” transitions seamlessly into “Freak,” and I appreciate its experimental ambitions. But all tracks on “Honeymoon” sound the same and I still cannot distinguish “God Knows I Tried” from the song “Honeymoon.” The album bored me, especially when 2015 was characterized by records like Beach House’s beautifully weird “Depression Cherry,” which did the whole “synthetic dream-pop” thing way better. 2015 also saw album releases from Of Monsters and Men — I have listened to “Beneath the Skin” consistently since it came out — and the wonderful “Wilder Mind” from Mumford and Sons. Lana was competing with bands that knew their sound and had a vision, while “Honeymoon” felt forced.

We don’t even have to talk about “Ultraviolence.” The romanticism of abuse on the track “Ultraviolence” made me genuinely uncomfortable. Also “I F-cked My Way Up to the Top” was just terrible. It’s one of those albums that’s aged like milk and I don’t want to even waste any more words on it.

When Lana exploded onto the scene with 2012’s “Born to Die: The Paradise Edition” (I’m going to consider this one full album, even though “Paradise” followed “Born to Die” by almost a year), it launched an entire trend and completely changed pop music. It proved that you don’t need to be formulaic and dumb to make great pop, and that a white woman from upstate New York can use hip-hop and jazz influences without sounding ridiculous.

Lana was a refreshing change of scene for the pop world. She didn’t shy away from ’60s glamorized music, instead embracing it. Lana was born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant to a middle-class family in June 1985. “Homeless outreach, drug and alcohol rehabilitation — that’s been my life for the past five years,” she told Vogue UK in 2012. In part to move on from her budding alcoholism, Grant rebranded as Lana Del Rey and moved to Brooklyn to pursue a musical career. At first, she had no interest in the Hollywood brand of fame.

“When I was younger,” she told Rolling Stone in early 2012, “I hated the focus, and it made me feel strange.”

This new album seems like the fully realized evolution of “Born to Die.” The hopelessness and melancholy of tracks from this electrifying debut like “Ride” and “Summertime Sadness” are offset by dream-hip-hop “National Anthem” and the groovy-as-hell “Cola.”

I know this is a lot of time to spend on her old albums, but Lana’s career tells a long-winding story of coming into her own.

On the dreamy, slow-moving “Love Song,” Lana asks, “Is it safe to be who you are?”

For Lana, I think she’s finally found the answer. “Norman F**king Rockwell” ends with “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have.” In this finale, Lana finally sheds the forced “debutante” identity for a mature musician who knows exactly what she’s doing and had a story to tell on this album. And it works. It all just works.