Almost 10 years ago, a beautiful song called ‘Video Games’ emerged online, introducing a mysterious new artist to the wider world. The track immediately captured people’s imaginations, with its vintage Hollywood sheen, poetic lyrics and its creator’s elegantly downcast drawl. Lana Del Rey had arrived, and she’s barely stopped spearheading the conversation since.
Throughout a decade as one of music’s top artists, Del Rey has kept a relatively low profile. Compared to other acts of her stature, paparazzi shots and tabloid headlines sensationalising her life are few and, as she told NME in 2019, she leads a life as regular as yours or mine, hosting game nights with her girlfriends and hanging out with her siblings.
Fame and Del Rey’s disregard for it is a recurring theme on her seventh album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’. On opening track ‘White Dress’, she explores her longing for a time when she was yet to find success; she delivers it in a rasped whisper so urgent it sounds like she’s trying to transport herself back there. “I felt free because I was only 19,” she sings of days and nights spent waitressing and listening to jazz, Kings Of Leon and “White Stripes when they were white hot”.
Perhaps it’s a case of the grass always being greener – pre-fame Lana surely wouldn’t have imagined achieving all she has and wanting to be back bussing tables – but she closes the song rationalising her desire to go back: “Because it made me fee… like a god/ It kind of makes me feel like maybe I was better off.”
The sublime, dreamy float of the title track is similarly nostalgic, calling back to a time where “there’s nothing wrong, contemplating God / Under the chemtrails over the country club”. It’s gorgeous and idyllic, distilling a scene of quintessential Americana into its most poetic form. Del Rey even manages to make the most mundane of chores and activities sound magical: “Washing my hair, doing the laundry/ Late night TV, I want you only”.
Conversely, on the romantic waltz of ‘Wild At Heart’, she’s in the here-and-now, evoking a scene of being chased by the paps, fingers on the shutter. “The cameras have flashes / They cause the car crashes,” she sighs, with an important distinction to make lest anyone get things twisted: “But I’m not a star.” ‘Dark But Just A Game’, which shifts from brooding trip-hop atmospherics to brighter folk licks, was inspired by a party at Madonna’s manager’s house and finds Del Rey explaining she doesn’t “even want what’s mine / Much less the fame”.
Later, she shares a lesson she learned from watching those who came before her: “We keep changing all the time / The best ones lost their minds / So I’m not gonna change; I’ll stay the same.” Rather than whinges about the privilege of being rich and successful, these are sharp observations on buying into your own celebrity and the impact of society’s thirst to know everything about our idols.
The LA-based musician’s last album, 2019’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, saw her hit a career-high with a record that instantly cemented its place as an all-time great. Yet with ‘Chemtrails…’ Del Rey follows it with ease, riding that record’s creative high but looking further back into her past to tie her whole story together in one place.
On first listen – and especially after the more organic sounds of ‘NFR!’ – ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ might come as a shock. Del Rey’s voice is fed through Auto-Tune and vocal processors, aping the production of the mumble rappers she declared her love for on her last album cycle. Incorporating elements of hip-hop into her timeless pop is nothing new for Lana – she’s been doing it since her ‘Born To Die’ era – but it’s exciting to hear her invention and refusal to be restricted.
There are plenty of Easter eggs littered throughout the record, connecting it to past releases. On the title track, she sings, “You’re in the wind, I’m in the water”, harking back to ‘Brooklyn Baby’’s “I think we’re the wind and sea”. She repeats ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’’s assertion that she “ain’t no candle in the wind” on the quiet fingerpicked folk of ‘Yosemite’ and ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’, while ‘Wild At Heart’ brings back the character of Joe, who previously appeared on ‘NFR!’’s ‘How To Disappear’ and her spoken-word poem ‘Never To Heaven’.
As well as paying tribute to herself, on ‘Chemtrails…’ Del Rey carves out space for her heroes and current favourites. ‘Breaking Up Slowly’ finds her swapping verses with country singer Nikki Lane. “I don’t wanna live with a life of regret / I don’t wanna end up like Tammy Wynette,” Lane sings at one point, before Del Rey references the vintage star’s third husband George Jones: “George got arrested out on the lawn / We might be breaking up after the song.”
The album ends with a poignant cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’, which features Arizona rising singer-songwriter Zella Day and Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering. On the penultimate track ‘Dance Til We Die’, Lana sings, “I’m covering Joni and I’m dancing with Joan / Stevie is calling on the telephone.” It’s a reminder that, more than just being influenced by the likes of Joan Baez and Stevie Nicks, she’s now on a par with them. Lana Del Rey is at the peak of her game – just don’t expect her to come down anytime soon.
Release date: March 19
Record label: Interscope / Polydor