In a post announcing the release of Chemtrails Over The Country Club, Lana Del Rey declared that she was “literally changing the world” with her dedication to self-exposure in her music. Whether you decipher this statement as a display of detached arrogance or confidence and charisma, she might have a point.
An abundance of hopeful bedroom lo-fi/pop/indie/dream-pop (delete as applicable) artists are indebted to the works and words of Del Rey. The sound she has crafted over the last decade has steered pop towards evermore artistic and abstract forms of conversation. Norman Fucking Rockwell!, her ticket to a permanent place in the ‘Greatest Albums of All Time’ lists, pushed a sense of nostalgic disconnection to her social surroundings with an uncompromisingly wondrous presence.
But what now for Lana? If Chemtrails… is the answer to this question, then it isn’t a particularly startling one. There’s little sense of a departure from her previous effort – the songs are mainly piano or guitar-led, slow in tempo and sincere in their openness. Some might call it stagnation, but it seems Del Rey has found an essence and identity in exploring American fantasy and fallacy.
Observations that the quality suffers as a result are fair. There lacks an explosive moment in Chemtrails…, a palpable centrepiece or thematic shift that characterised NFR’s braver expeditions. The titular track and lead single seeks to establish a transcendent flourish to proceedings but feels a little forced, especially with a forty-five second outro from a solitary percussive groove. It’s pretty, but its necessity is debatable.
Unsurprisingly, however, there are songs of magnificence. Opening track ‘White Dress’ is the most experimental of Chemtrails…, and by far one the most refreshing tracks. Del Rey pushes her pitch to an airy falsetto that carries a pervasive defiance and authority (“Look how I do this / Look how I got this”). More tender moments are soothing and well thought-out. Enlisting a similar vocal style to ‘White Dress’, ‘Not All Those Who Wander’ is a wonderful detour into acoustic fragility.
An emergent theme from repeated listens is that the further the tracks from Chemtrails… detract from Del Rey’s earlier pursuits, the better. Del Rey has produced another solid and extremely enjoyable album, but it feels like such a near-miss. Not at all to a point of dissatisfaction, but more to a longing frustration for a little more variation. Could her effortless rendition of ‘Summertime The Gershwin Version’ have made the cut, for example? A radical left-turn wouldn’t have gone amiss by any means.
For what it is, though, Chemtrails… is a strong album. It might lack that extra something, but within live eleven tracks that will please ardent followers with ease. In the dreamy American universe she’s constructed her artistry within, she’s certainly found an expressive focal point and comfort zone. What begs the question, however, is where she goes next.
Top Track: White Dress