Contact Us

review: Lana Del Rey’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ is her most uncompromising yet

Lana Del Rey Norman Fucking Rockwell

“Me and my friends‚ we miss rock ‘n’ roll / I want shit to feel just like it used to.” Lana Del Rey sings those two lines on “The Greatest,” a highlight of her new album Norman Fucking Rockwell, and in a way, they sum up the entire album. The often-guitar-centric Norman Fucking Rockwell is the Lana Del Rey album that most qualifies as a rock album, and it’s an album that is not very content with the way things feel in 2019. It’s not an overtly political album, but it’s an album that sees Lana grappling with much more than classic Hollywood.

If Lana’s last album, 2017’s great Lust For Life, felt sort of like the spiritual sequel to 2012’s hip hop and pop-tinged Born to Die, then her new one is like the next chapter in the more subtle, somber style that she began exploring on 2015’s Honeymoon. (Maybe one day she’ll take another stab at the dark, bluesy sounds of Ultraviolence too?) Norman Fucking Rockwell isn’t just Honeymoon Vol. 2 though; while that album was often overtly rooted in nostalgia for the sweeping balladry of early/mid 20th century pop and vocal jazz standards, Norman Fucking Rockwell sounds almost entirely modern. The album still has obligatory references to old music (Zeppelin, Bowie, Crosby Stills & Nash) and old fashion (“I dream in jeans and leather”), it still has a song that sounds like an old Beatles ballad (the aforementioned “The Greatest”), and it even has a very well-executed cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” (itself sort of a cover of George Gershwin’s pop/jazz standard “Summertime,” so it fits right into Lana’s world). And sometimes it does that very Lana Del Rey thing where she combines a very new thing with a very old thing (“The Greatest” may sound like the early ’70s, but it contains the extremely 2019 lyric “the culture is lit”). But mostly, it seems like Lana has eschewed her love of fantasy and pastiche and made an album with more of a natural feel.

Lana can be frank and personal on Norman Fucking Rockwell (the first line on the album is “Goddamn man-child, you fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you'”), and she favors acoustic guitars, piano, and warm modern production (with help from Jack Antonoff) that make the album sound more down to earth than anything she has released since assuming the moniker Lana Del Rey. It’s interesting that, after already embracing pop and hip hop, she has chosen to make a rock album — sometimes folk rock, sometimes piano rock, but rock nonetheless — given the oft-repeated sentiment that rock is dead within mainstream culture. But Lana even pulls that off without seeming retro. One of the album’s best songs is “Venice Bitch,” which nears the ten-minute mark and spends its mid-section drifting off into lengthy passages of psychedelic electric guitar solos. It’s not at all the kind of song you expect from a mainstream, major label artist in 2019, but it doesn’t have the “bring rock back!” vibes of, say, the new Raconteurs or Black Keys albums. It sounds like Lana is just in her own musical world, and in a more comfortable way than she has been in the past. Her world has always existed just on the fringes of true mainstream music, and sometimes interacted with it directly (like when she duetted with The Weeknd on “Lust For Life” or when she scored her only Top 10 hit with Cedric Gervais’ house remix of “Summertime Sadness”), but with Norman Fucking Rockwell Lana seems totally okay leaving the radio and the charts behind.

She also seems okay leaving behind much of the usual Lana Del Rey persona. Lana will — to some extent — probably always be playing some type of character, and her music will probably always offer a type of escapism, as NFR does, but this album also veers towards real life in a more stark way than Lana’s previous albums have. And a big part of that is because of how much real life has changed since Born to Die came out. Lana stopped using American flag visuals at her shows after Trump got elected, and she has let a slightly more political side of her sneak into the songwriting on NFR, like when she address climate change on “The Greatest” or when she sings “There’s a new revolution, a loud evolution that I saw / Born of confusion and quiet collusion of which mostly I’ve known / A modern day woman with a weak constitution” on the stunning album closer “​hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it.” Dreams of ’50s America just don’t feel as right when we’ve got a racist, sexist president going on about how he wants to “make America great again,” and Lana knows it. So instead of escaping to the romanticized past, NFR escapes to a place where you can just get lost in the subdued vibes of the music — this is, after all, a “mood record,” as Lana puts it. And sometimes this album isn’t about escaping at all. “I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown / 24/7 Sylvia Plath,” Lana sings on the aforementioned album closer. If the “fucking” in the album title didn’t make her sarcasm clear, this is the first Lana Del Rey album that looks nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting. She isn’t depicting the American dream; she’s dropping you into a moment of madness.

Subscribe to Brooklyn Vegan on

Subscribe to Brooklyn Vegan on

Subscribe to Brooklyn Vegan on

Subscribe to Brooklyn Vegan on

Subscribe to Brooklyn Vegan on

Check It Out

Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing VIP profile. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to http://www.brooklynvegan.com using your original account information.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

(Forgot your password?)

Not a member? Sign up here

Sign up for BrooklynVegan quickly by connecting your Facebook account. It's just as secure and no password to remember!