LP / CD / DL
Fresh from a spoken word poetry collection that nobody asked for, but somehow seemed the most ‘Lana’ thing ever, Chemtrails Over The Country Club is a beautiful record that should delight fans and infuriate detractors in equal measure.
Before I go any further let’s acknowledge how great that album title is and how succinctly it sums up everything you need to know about the Lanaverse in four words. One of the first things that struck me about her as an artist when Born To Die came out was how evocatively she created and inhabited a world of her own. A tangible, but entirely fantastical environment that floated somewhere between eras and fashions. Since then she has honed this aesthetic (and if ever an artist had an ‘aesthetic’ it’s her) to the point that it has become both totally unique and frequently self-parodic. A heady mix of waspish affluence and urban trashiness, old fashioned (small c) conservatism and millennial sensibility. It can veer into predictability and at times feels like she’s a sort of walking Instagram filter, but ultimately it’s what makes her so much more fascinating than someone who just writes songs.
There was always a sense in the early days that she was a cuckoo in the nest. Infiltrating, if not quite assimilating into, the monied excess of cocktails in the Hamptons and Bugatti Veyrons. Increasingly, however, the lines have become blurred and it feels as though she may have, metaphorically and literally, bought the villa. To quote her own lyrics from Gods and Monsters “like a groupie incognito posing as a real singer, life imitates art”. As the title suggests though what comes through in this new record is nothing as simple or one dimensional as having ‘sold out’ and there is still plenty of cuckoo to go round.
The album kicks off with White Dress, a surprisingly slight opener even by Lana’s standards, delivered mostly in a whispery near-falsetto. It’s by no means the best song here, but does go a way to setting the tone for what is mostly a fairly delicate and lowkey record. Sitting somewhere between the gothic depression of Ultraviolence and the melodic prettiness of Lust For Life this is not a particularly radio friendly album but it is fragile and vulnerable without being difficult or hard going. Whilst some songs such as Wild At Heart and Tulsa Jesus Freak pass without much notice there are several tracks that stand amongst her best work and as a whole the album is strong.
The highlight track for me is Let Me Love You Like A Woman, a voluptuous and lush ballad that that makes you want to fall in love – instantly, dreamily and forever. I hesitate to discuss Lana’s brand of love in any real depth because it’s an essay in itself, but while many column inches have been dedicated to the dangerousness, or otherwise, of her ‘anti-feminist’ lyrics – sonically and contextually it is both effective and evocative. Personally I struggle to be offended by a woman singing from her own viewpoint of romanticism, whatever that may be, but I also feel it is hard to know where the real Lana ends and the character begins. Taken as a fiction it is a perfectly drawn one and I enjoy it for what it is.
Dark But Just A Game is another standout – a quirky mixture of things that feel like at least two songs rolled into one wrapped around an irresistible, slightly Beatleseque melody. It’s one of those infectious tracks that I know I will find myself listening to on a loop. Breaking Up Slowly, featuring what sounds very much like an uncredited (and increasingly omnipresent) Miley Cyrus, the dusty, atmospheric and slightly eerie Yosemite and closing track For Free – a strangely uplifting Joni Mitchell cover featuring Zella Day & Weyes Blood – are also all favourites.
It’s the nature of an on-release album review that you will only ever have had limited time to get to know it. This allows you to react instinctively and give your gut impression which can be valuable, however, with an artist like Lana it also makes me somewhat apprehensive. Queen of the slow burn, I used to go through cycles of dismissing each of her releases as ‘samey’ only to eventually fall head over heels for them in time, discovering the nuances with each listen. I now know better than to treat her like an instant and disposable fix, there is an intimacy to her sound that requires a little effort but rewards you for it in spades.
If you had asked me earlier in her career I don’t think I would have predicted Lana Del Rey as having any real longevity, but it seems to me now that despite plenty of criticism, and a good few controversies, she has a very real shot at becoming one of those enduring, timeless artists she often pays tribute to. This is in large part down to the staying power of the music itself – it is rare to find albums within the upper tier of mainstream pop that require time to percolate and get better with each listen rather than the reverse. It can be tempting (and fun) to mock her retro tropes and easy rider daddy issues but more than any other contemporary pop artist she has created a sonic universe of her own – lush, baroque, gothic, joyful and melancholic – and Chemtrails Over The Country Club is another great addition to it.