It’s safe to say a lot has happened since the release of Lana Del Rey’s last album, the massively acclaimed Norman Fucking Rockwell. Outside of the obvious worldwide situation, Lana herself has gone from Album of the Year Grammy nominated to ‘I’m releasing a book of Poetry on Vinyl’ to controversy after controversy; over topics ranging from hypocrisy over her music in the press to coming off like she ‘understood’ the storming of the US Capital earlier this year. Basically it has been one ‘incident’ after another with one ill judged tweet or Instagram post after another, all of which would have been ignored if it wasn’t for the frequency of these mix ups and badly timed comments.
How does all of this fit in with the release of Chemtrails Over The Country Club? It could well have been a reset for the chaotic year she seems to have had as a ‘celebrity’, though the announcement of another album due in just 3 months that’s said to be a response to this time makes me think otherwise. Even the album cover was announced with a confusing pre-emptive instagram post explaining the women on the artwork and saying some of her best friends are ‘rappers’. No matter what this album was going to make headlines, but where does that leave the music?
It’s clear throughout that we are still in the same place musically as Norman Fucking Rockwell!. That may seem obvious to anyone who would say that Lana has been creating very similar music her whole career, but there was a definite shift on that album to a more vulnerable and introspective tone in the songs and thankfully it remains here. In fact this album sounds a lot less ‘produced’ than much of NFR!, most of the instrumentation remaining as small as possible. ‘Let Me Love You Like A Woman’ eases in with a hook that’s as Lana Del Rey as you can get, while ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ makes sure the American focus to her songs continues.
Opener ‘White Dress’ is probably the track that will surprise longtime fans the most, I’ve never heard Lana sing like this before her sort of operatic vocals on the track really shining like never before. Vocally Chemtrails Over The Country Club is arguably the best Lana has ever sounded, I love her delivery on ‘Dark But Just A Game’ as well as the haunting moments on the title track. Even when the songs start to blend together a little, ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ or ‘Yosemite’ around the middle of the album start a run of songs that don’t really leave a lasting impression, the vocals are still really beautiful.
There’s all of the elements here that have made up most of Lana Del Rey’s previous albums here as expected, but for me the highs just aren’t as high. I really love the song ‘Wild At Heart’ which feels honest and hopeful and ‘Dance Till We Die’ feels like a much needed change of pace near the end of the record, but there’s no true peaks here. Everything remains lovely and nice to listen to, so clearly another collaboration between Jack Antonoff and Lana from a production standpoint, but it lacks the spark of songs like ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’ that made NFR! such a dynamic full length album. I’m certainly not expecting Lana Del Rey in 2021 to be creating songs like ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Summertime Sadness’ nearly a decade on, but when so much is retained from her most recent album it’s hard to not directly compare these songs to the ones there.
As a Lana Del Rey fan from the start there’s plenty for me to enjoy in Chemtrails Over The Country Club, but even I’m left wishing for just that little bit extra that I know she can deliver.
Words by Sam Atkins.