Nor­man Fuck­ing Rock­well!’ feels like par­adise before the apocalypse

Review: Lana Del Rey's most stripped-back album is a seductive but foreboding end-of-summer soundtrack.

Rat­ing: 4.55

Lana Del Rey makes pop songs like muse­um arte­facts. They’re her own dis­tinct form of Amer­i­cana – part of an aes­thet­ic uni­verse in which Chan Mar­shall is the biggest song­writer on the plan­et, Los Ange­les is an eter­nal surly utopia and the livin’ is easy.

Nor­man Fuck­ing Rock­well! offers the clear­est iter­a­tion of Del Rey’s instinct for myth-mak­ing. She’s still enthralled by clas­sic iconog­ra­phy – like Bruce Spring­steen and The Beach Boys, Del Rey will always see cars and beach­es as the back­drops to where life hap­pens. But beneath the bliss of her lux­u­ri­ous sound, the star can feel some­thing sin­is­ter. If you hold me with­out hurt­ing me,” she sings on Cin­na­mon Girl, you’ll be the first who ever did”. Nor­man Fuck­ing Rock­well! has an end-of-sum­mer atmos­phere that feels like par­adise before the apocalypse.

Fol­low­ing the fuller instru­men­ta­tion and zeit­geist sounds of Del Rey’s 2017 album Lust For Life, this lat­est set goes for a more stripped-down, ornate method­ol­o­gy. There’s no room for ASAP Rocky this time – Del Rey instead cuts an iso­lat­ed fig­ure. Nor­man Fuck­ing Rock­well! is book­end­ed by two piano bal­lads: the title track struts into Fiona Apple ter­ri­to­ry as Del Rey probes the sor­ry con­di­tion that is man­hood by scru­ti­n­is­ing her rela­tion­ship with a dull, imma­ture self-loathing poet”. And on Hope Is a Dan­ger­ous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It, by jux­ta­pos­ing clas­sic Amer­i­can imagery – Chris­t­ian church­es, whole­some dances, the work of pho­tog­ra­ph­er Slim Aarons – against the bru­tal forces in her life, she finds the per­fect view­ing point to see the myth of Amer­i­can virtue. Hope is dead, why lie about it?

Not every track sounds as crest­fall­en. Take Love Song: with a sim­ple title, it both cel­e­brates and con­torts the old­est theme imag­in­able. Por­tray­ing the back­seat of her beau’s car as a place of warmth and attach­ment, Del Rey’s qui­et per­for­mance real­ly puts the roof on this con­vert­ible, lock­ing you into the inti­mate scene.

67 min­utes of mate­r­i­al that’s pri­mar­i­ly piano bal­lads might test the patience of some lis­ten­ers, but there are oth­er sounds to keep things mov­ing. The album dab­bles in AM radio rock (“Me and my friends miss rock‘n’roll,” she sings over the nos­tal­gic gui­tar lines of The Greatest) and still man­ages to sound glam­orous. Venice Bitch is a free-spir­it­ed, psy­che­del­ic folk jam and Del Rey’s unlike­ly cov­er of Sublime’s Doin’ Time pre­serves its orig­i­nal trip-hop groove.

Accom­pa­ny­ing his work on Tay­lor Swift’s recent­ly-released album Lover, Jack Antonoff co-wrote and pro­duced most of Nor­man Fuck­ing Rock­well!, but you’d have to work very hard to con­nect both records. And though Nor­man Rock­well – him­self a hawk­er of the deep­est Amer­i­can lore – might have been in her thoughts, this album is about one per­son. That per­son is Lana Fuck­ing Del Rey. Test­ing the far reach­es of her own mythos, she has giv­en us a grip­ping self-por­trait that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly snaps a coun­try into focus.


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