Since she broke through in 2012, all eyes have been on Lana Del Rey. Is she authentic or a sham? Happy or sad? A genius or a caricature of the past? She is an artist that who inspires scrutiny and poring over her lyrics, the myth she’s been steadily building encrypted within. Of course, if you asked her, she would say there is no myth and it’s all just her, but part of what makes her so brilliant is how difficult it is to separate her from the music she gives us.
Like any other artist in this game for a decade, though, she’s had her hits and misses. As she celebrates the release of her latest album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’, and with newbie ‘Rock Candy Sweet’ apparently on the way, let’s take a look back through her back catalogue so far and see how it all measures up (and, yes, we’re counting ‘Born To Die’ as her debut).
On her fourth album, Del Rey doubled down on the cinematic streaks in her work, producing a record full of strings and sophistication. The results were beautiful but, consumed in one 65 minute chunk, a little monotonous. Only the clipped beats and blissful electronic whirrs of ‘High By The Beach’ truly broke from the swooping dramatic arcs of the record, easily marking its standout song while also providing some much-needed variety in an album often overhwelmed by its own beauty.
5‘Born To Die’ (2012)
When Del Rey first broke through to the wider world, she did so with bursts of ornate baroque pop, underpinned by hip-hop beats and, as on the likes of ‘National Anthem’, deliveries whose cadence threatened to spill over into rapping. ‘Born To Die’, her major label debut, introduced her as the despondent Hollywood starlet besieged by toxic men, in whom she would try to find redemption.
In this era, she described herself as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra”, embodying that role best on the Spaghetti Western-meets-elegant ‘60s pop of ‘Blue Jeans’. While it sounds a little dated in parts now, ‘Born To Die’ hinted that Del Rey was too special to live in the shadows of other artists, no matter how great – she just had to find her path to that point.
4‘Lust For Life’ (2017)
For her fifth album, Del Rey brought together the old and the new. It was there in her collaborators – modern stars The Weeknd, A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti, alongside Fleetwood Mac hero Stevie Nicks and Sean Ono Lennon, a musician of the now with old-school sensibilities similar to Lana’s. It was there in the subject matter too – familiar tales of love and live mixed with new political themes, as on ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, where she danced in a festival utopia with the dark cloud of nuclear warfare lingering on the horizon. It added range to her previous efforts while promisingly building on the world she’d created back in 2012.
There was a time when it seemed like we might never get another album from Lana after ‘Born To Die’. When asked where she would go next post-breakthrough, she would tell people she’d already spilt everything she had to say. Luckily, that changed and ‘Ultraviolence’ emerged. Produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, it saw her twist away from the more modern aspects of her previous record and hone in on the vintage-poised pop side of her sound instead.
The results were stunning – in another world, ‘Shades Of Cool’ would be a Bond theme, while ‘Brooklyn Baby’ unfurled a tale of a bohemian romance full of beat poetry, jazz collections and singing Lou Reed with your boyfriend. Del Rey also tackled her burgeoning fame, sarcastically declaring, “I want money, power and glory’ on the gorgeous ‘Money Power Glory’ and taking aim at people’s misconceptions of her on ‘Fucked My Way Up To The Top’, showcasing how sharp her pen could be on both topics.
2‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ (2021)
If following 2019’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ was tough, you can’t tell from ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’. Lana’s latest album is a masterpiece almost on a par with its predecessor and finds her not only further developing the sounds from ‘NFR!’, but also tying up her whole career across returns to trip-hop atmospherics and hip-hop elements, as well as leaving a breadcrumb of connections to old songs along the way.
It’s a record that beckons you deep into it, enveloping you in its nostalgia (‘White Dress’, the title track) and sharing stories of fame and romances that you get stuck in a Groundhog Day loop for (‘Dark But Just A Game’, ‘Wild At Heart’). A decade into her career, it highlights an artist still burning with invention – be it in the way she uses her voice or the sounds she employs.
1‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ (2019)
Lana’s magnum opus – so far – saw her lean into her folkier influences and craft a record that was inspired by Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Carole King, Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin, but sparkled as something that stood confidently all on its own. Del Rey’s best album yet is also a modern-day classic; a record that whisks you off into the Hollywood Hills and Laurel Canyon and puts you at the heart of a Hollywood romance that stays with you long after its last notes have rung out.
It boasts a killer opening line (the title track’s “God damn man child, you fucked me so good I almost said I love you”), some of Lana’s finest songwriting yet (‘Love Song’, ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, ‘How To Disappear’), an unexpectedly witchy Sublime cover (‘Doin’ Time’) and the absolutely superlative ‘The Greatest’. It’ll be a tough one for her – and many others – to top.