FIB Music Review: Lana Del Rey’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” Album

Lana Del Rey’s fifth album “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” is a show-stopping collection of songs that stay true to Del Rey’s musical vision while presenting a deconstructed version of the artist’s signature Americana.

Source: The Brag

Lana Del Rey’s Twitter bio reads: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself; I am large – I contain multitudes.”

A quote from poet Walt Whitman, these lines speak to the unique place that Lana Del Rey holds in the cultural consciousness. She is both an indie darling and mainstream success story. Her musical persona is a well-known construction. Regardless, she seems to live her life in a more authentic and grounded way than the typical popstar.

Del Rey’s schtick has always been her kitschy, tongue-in-cheek veneration of old-world American glam. Her songs spoke of fading Hollywood mystique, black motorcycles and Miss America femme fatales. Her languid vocals keep the intentionally exaggerated references from toppling into the wrong kind of patriotism (i.e. MAGA hats).

The End of an Era

Source: lanadelrey.com

With her 2017 album Lust For Life, Del Rey notably stopped performing in front of American flags, expressing her deep concerns with America’s direction under the Trump presidency. The chorus of “When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing sings “Is it the end of an era? / Is it the end of America?”.

With Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey takes that concept to its logical conclusion. This album is the artist at her most profound and intimate. The namesake of the album title, Norman Rockwell, was an artist himself deeply embedded in the cultural myths of the U.S.A. Rockwell famously illustrated idyllic pictures of the American Dream. For Lana, the allure and pull of this shared folklore about her country has died.

The opening line of the record’s eponymous track is “Goddamn manchild / You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you”. This line could be directed at a man or America itself. While her songs retain the whimsical imagery and references that she is famous for, the effect is ultimately different. Lana is wise to the tricks employed by the propagandists now, and she isn’t playing along anymore.

On the ironically titled “Venice Bitch”, she quotes the great American poet Robert Frost:

“And as the summer fades away/ Nothing gold can stay.”

Heartbreak Anthems

Lana Del Rey in the Gucci Guilty campaign. Source: i-D

The possibility of a good man disappears completely on the track “Cinnamon Girl”. The track boasts one of the best wham lines on the album: “if you hold me without hurting me / You’ll be the first who ever did”. Del Rey reinvents her tried and true oeuvre of sombre love songs and takes them to melancholy new heights.

Pitchfork’s review states that Del Rey:

“sings exquisitely of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. It establishes her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.”

The album is much like a Norman Rockwell painting, it’s a depiction of America today. But crucially, it sheds the perfomative lore of the good life. On “The greatest”, Lana seems to sign off at the end of an age with “The culture is lit and if this is it / I had a ball / I guess that I’m burned out after all.”

Norman Fucking Rockwell! secures Lana Del Rey’s place as a truly great American songwriter. Her persona is no longer an accessory along for the ride as in her previous ventures, tragically attached to the men who treat her badly. Lana is the creator of her own destiny. She is in control. In “Mariners Apartment Complex she sings “I ain’t no candle in the wind”, and “I’m your man / I’m your man.”

Finally, the message that shines through the retro haze of the album is one of transformation, while forever longing for a past that never truly existed. Classic rock references to everything from Mama Cass to the Beach Boys pine for a storybook American life, and cement the album in its place amidst the canon of classics.

Lana senses her own greatness on the meta “The Next Best American Record”:

“We were so obsessed with writing the next best American record /

‘Cause we were just that good.”

Subscribe to FIB’s newsletter for your weekly dose of music, fashion and pop culture news!