COMING UP: Lana Del Ray – Norman Fucking Rockwell

I’ve been to a lot of live music in my life. I’ve seen all time pop industry legends one weekend, obscure upcoming country acts the next, all while waiting for the Hip Hop meets Disco meets electro set I’ll be seeing a week later. No act have ever elicited the reaction from a crowd that I witnessed during a Lana Del Rey show in Birmingham back in 2013. The consistent screams from an adoring crowd, the sound of every single word to every single unreleased or mildly obscure bonus track being sung by the tightly packed crowd, was crazy for an artist so often lumped into the ‘jazz lounge singer’ bracket by people who’ve only ever seen that infamous SNL performance. You can’t just be a fan of Lana Del Rey, you have to be a stan.

I would call myself one of those stans. I was there for ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Video Games’; album Born To Die and follow up Paradise EP provided the soundtrack for much of my university life. I’ve seen her music develop inwardly for the spectacular Ultraviolence and the underwhelming and monotonous Honeymoon. 2017’s Lust For Life saw her not only raise a smile on its joyful album artwork, but captured that joyous feeling of a Lana Del Rey gig in a way her studio recordings had never managed before. No matter what she did next I’d be on board, but the music that has followed has far surpassed even my high expectations.

Announcing an album titled Norman Fucking Rockwell would have been enough to raise eyebrows from fans and everyone else, but doing it alongside a song like ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’ made everything so much more intriguing. The first of 4 ‘fan singles’ she has released, it previews an album that could potentially be the most interesting and unexpected music of her career. Part 70s  country track, part psychedelic rock, it’s a stark departure from the hip-hop sound of much of Lust For Life. The vocals on the chorus captured that ethereal quality we’d come to expect, like a lost recording from a classic movie star.

The first of 3 songs she’d release written with Jack Antonoff, ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’ could easily have led to an album of classic rock songs. The 9 minute psychedelic dreamscape, ‘Venice Bitch’ that was released just a week later threw this off once again. Teasing you in as a folksy ballad it builds and builds into a swirling dramatic exploration of love. ‘Venice Bitch’ recalls so much more of Del Rey’s previous work than ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’ does, but its expansiveness makes it so striking as a single. It’s interesting to imagine this even working as part of an album, ending up more like the closing credits of a movie than something you’d see alongside 12 other similar records.

That leaves just one of the Lana Del Rey/Jack Antonoff trio of songs we’ve heard and personally my favourite of the bunch. In stark contrast once again to what it follows we have a stripped back ballad instead; ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – and I have it’. The title is so evocative as it is, but when sung as the chorus here it becomes instantly poignant. The performance from Lana here is outstanding, as if this is a fully live acoustic performance rather than a studio recording.

All three of these songs bring something new to the conversation around one of the industries most interesting mainstream acts. Throw in her recently released cover of ‘Doin’ Time’ by Sublime and the ‘California Beach’ sound she’s crafted over so many years has come to a head. Despite no firm release date, or even confirmation that any of these songs will make it onto Norman Fucking Rockwell, it’s an exciting time to be a Lana Del Rey stan. Where she was once criticised for trying to sound too much like the classic legacy acts she admired, at this point she’s joined their ranks as one of the era’s most interesting and exciting songwriters and performers.

Words by Sam Atkins

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