Of all the artistic evolutions to occur among American singer-songwriters over the past half decade, Lana Del Rey’s evolution is definitely among the most intriguing.
From updating her hip hop inflected sound on 2017’s Lust for Life (in a callback to her sophomore album Born to Die) to shifting towards the psych-influenced soft rock and piano balladry found on 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! (NFR), Lana’s recent output, especially NFR, has demonstrated significant growth on all fronts. This is quite remarkable considering she was seen as inauthentic in image, and melodramatic in style and performance throughout the early stages of her career.
Her seventh album, Chemtrails over the Country Club primarily focuses on and develops the piano balladry found on tracks such as “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It” from NFR. Frankly, it is an excellent foundation for Lana to build an album on, and is well suited to her voice, which is often softly sung, while being breathy at points (for an example of the latter, listen to “White Dress” or “Tusla Jesus Freak”).
Strikingly, Lana’s vocal diction is extremely varied at points, with the altered phrasing to add extra lyrics to a line (“Wild at Heart” and the aforementioned “White Dress”) helping to keep her singing front and centre.
Musically, there are some moments which deviate from the piano balladry. “Dark but Just a Game” is the closest thing to a pop song here (heard in the booming bass and drum loop), while the spectral folk of “Yosemite” (a track dating back to the Lust for Life sessions) is stunningly fragile. As the album never exceeds midtempo, the slow balladry can be a turnoff for those who seek a little more variety (or at least some pep) in their music listening experience.
However, Chemtrails is less an evolution of sound, and more an evolution of lyrical substance, with a number of tracks here showing Lana Del Rey turning more introspectively inward than ever.
In a lyrical continuation of NRF’s “Hope is a Dangerous Thing”, “White Dress” provides an inside look at the brutal machinery of the music industry, as well as Lana’s struggles with fame, masked as a nostalgia trip. Meanwhile, the title track sees Lana singing about “wanting so much to be normal and realizing…you have an overactive, eccentric mind”.
Even a mostly faithful cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” (originally from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon) works within the framework of Chemtrails’ aesthetic and themes; the song is referenced in the lyrics of “Yosemite” and “Dance Till We Die”, and shares a lyrical theme with opener “White Dress”, turning an innocuous cover into a pivotal closer which ties the entire album together.
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Introspective, melancholic, subdued, and vulnerable, Chemtrails over the Country Club finds Lana Del Rey amid continued personal growth whilst consolidating herself artistically, even if the music is not as immediately gripping as it was on NFR. Still, Lana’s last two efforts collectively make for an excellent start to the second act of her career.
Album Highlights: “Yosemite”, “For Free”, “White Dress”, and “Chemtrails over the Country Club”.