Lana Del Rey – ‘Blue Banisters’ review: a defiant and delicate return

On her eighth record – one that subtly responds to her critics – Del Rey's voice has never sounded better

After the release of ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ in March, Lana Del Rey had some words for the media. Accused of building a career on cultural appropriation and glamorising domestic abuse in her lyrics, she took to her Instagram Story with a promise: “I will continue these thoughts on my next record on June 1 titled ‘Rock Candy Sweet’,” she wrote.

‘Rock Candy Sweet’ might now be ‘Blue Banisters’, and it might only be arriving in October rather than either of its previous summer release dates, but it does in part subtly respond to some of the criticisms Del Rey has faced over her career, and in recent months. These days, it’s her main vehicle to do so – last month, she deactivated all of her social media accounts to focus on “some different endeavours” that “require privacy and transparency”.

There are warnings and moments where Del Rey brushes off some of the charges that have been levelled against her, and justifications of the way she operates. “You don’t know me any better than they do, baby,” she sings on ‘Black Bathing Suit’, later seeming to reference the controversy she found herself in earlier this year over comments she made about Donald Trump that she felt were taken out of context: “And what I never said, why there’s a price on my head.”

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Since she emerged with ‘Video Games’ in 2011, the world has been fixated on the singer’s apparent “sadness”. “I’m not just one thing,” she reasoned to NME in 2019 of the melancholy that characterises some of her songs. “But being able to express my sadness sometimes makes me actually more cheerful than some people I know, because I gave myself permission to have a lot of colours.”

It’s a thought she returns to on the tinkling piano of ‘Beautiful’. “What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad?” she wonders. “Never known who he was or the man he’d become / There’d be no blue period.” Del Rey brings herself back into the picture and tells us to trust her vision: “Let me show you how sadness can turn into happiness / I can turn blue into something.”

As she sings that sentiment, her voice sounds phenomenal – the richest, warmest and most stunning it ever has. It’s a common theme throughout the album, her vocals on the likes of the string and trumpet-laden ‘Arcadia’ and the title track elevating the feeling in her words to even greater heights. If you found the experimental vocal work of ‘Chemtrails…’ and that record’s ‘White Dress’ too divisive, you’ll be satisfied here.

‘Blue Banisters’ doesn’t continue the Laurel Canyon folk sound of ‘Chemtrails…’ or 2019’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, though. Perhaps that’s because it’s a collection of both older songs and new material – some of these tracks (Nectar Of The Gods’, ‘If You Lie Down With Me’) date back to 2013 and could have been included on her 2014 record ‘Ultraviolence’. Instead, it focuses largely on the depth of the piano, only really veering on ‘Interlude – The Trio’, which marries Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Trio’ with trap beats, and ‘If You Lie Down With Me’s horn-filled Americana.

For all her media drama after the release of ‘Chemtrails…’, this album – Del Rey’s eighth – largely seems to have its focus on friends and family. There are songs like the ‘Mr Brightside’-referencing ‘Thunder’ that were written with members of The Last Shadow Puppets, with whom she formed a friendship band in 2017, while Miles Kane takes the reins on the jazzy ‘Dealer’. That track also finds Del Rey sounding the most emotional she ever has, almost screaming her way through her lines: “I don’t wanna live /I don’t wanna give you nothing/Cos you never give me nothing back”.

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The closing song ‘Sweet Carolina’ was co-written by her dad Rob and her sister Chuck, as well as model and social media star Alana Champion. It sounds magical, a spellbinding haze over its pretty piano melodies, but some of the lyrics are jarring: “You name your babe Lilac Heaven / After your iPhone 11,” goes one line. “‘Crypto forever,’ screams your stupid boyfriend”, another. As inharmonious as those words feel compared to Del Rey’s usual poeticism, it’s hard not to smile when she finishes the refrain by drawling: “Fuck you, Kevin.”

Like those lyrics, there are moments on ‘Blue Banisters’ that don’t quite match up to the high bar Del Rey has set for her output. ‘Living Legend’ is sweet but doesn’t stand out against the record’s better tracks, and while ‘Nectar Of The Gods’ does offer some variety with its fingerpicked guitar, it still fades into the album’s tapestry rather than making itself into a distinctive new design.

For the most part, though, ‘Blue Banisters’ reminds us that, beyond the social media fires and press backlashes, Del Rey is still as great as she’s always been. With her attention firmly on her “endeavours” rather than the noise around her, perhaps her next album will be even better.

Details

  • Release date: October 22
  • Record label: Interscope / Polydor
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