Lana Del Rey – ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’ review: some of her most minimal, freeing music yet
Lana Del Rey's career is surrounded by controversy... again. But if we've learned anything about Lana at this point, it's that, outside of all that other stuff, the music always speaks for itself. New album Chemtrails over the Country Club -- her seventh and the followup to her most acclaimed album yet (Norman Fucking Rockwell) -- is no exception. It was co-produced by Jack Antonoff, who also worked with Lana on NFR, and it largely continues the earthy, bare-bones vibe of that album. Some of it feels birthed directly from the aftermath of that album; it ends with the Weyes Blood and Zella Day-aided cover of Joni Mitchell's "For Free" that the three of them played live on the Norman tour, and penultimate song "Dance Till We Die" begins with the self-referential "I'm covering Joni and I'm dancing with Joan / Stevie's calling on the telephone," referring to that very Joni cover and Joan Baez's appearance on the Norman tour, and also calling back to Stevie Nicks' appearance on 2017's Lust For Life. (The whole lyric in general also has hints of the "'Isn't life crazy?,' I said now that I'm singin' with Sean" line on Lust For Life's Sean Ono Lennon-featuring "Tomorrow Never Came." Lana likes to sing about her collaborations.)
Chemtrails is probably more similar to Norman Fucking Rockwell than any other Lana album was to its predecessor, and it has some melodies that are almost eerily familiar, but it doesn't feel like rehashed ideas. It feels like a new chapter in NFR's book. Lana has called the album "folky" and "Americana" and that definitely comes through on a song like "Breaking Up Slowly," which features and was co-written with alt-country singer Nikki Lane and is indeed some of Lana's most overtly Americana music yet. It also has the stark, haunting folk of "Yosemite," which sounds more like Marissa Nadler than like any previous Lana Del Rey album. But referring to this as just a folk, country, or Americana album would be underselling how musically diverse it is. There are some jazzy flourishes here and there (and lyrical references to jazz too), "Let Me Love You Like A Woman" is classic piano pop balladry, "Dark But Just A Game" almost sounds like a Radiohead song, and "Tulsa Jesus Freak" has some auto-tune wizardry that gives James Blake and Bon Iver a run for their money. The best song, though, is album opener "White Dress." It's a classic Lana come-up story, and it's also one of her most freeing, off-the-cuff-sounding songs yet. She brings her voice to an unpolished, out-of-character rasp, and the way she spits out the "down at the men in music business conference" line with like six extra syllables than the rhyme scheme calls for is not only funny, it's also an effective use of stream-of-consciousness poetry that would probably make her hero Leonard Cohen proud.
Chemtrails also feels like an easy comedown after Norman Fucking Rockwell. It's over 20 minutes shorter than its predecessor, there's no jammed out song like "Venice Bitch." NFR earned its length, but it did require patience; Chemtrails is over before you know it, and it's easy to give it repeat listens. It's some of her most minimal, least radio-friendly music yet, but it's also one of her most accessible albums. A lot of artists take a longer break than usual after hitting a career peak like Norman Fucking Rockwell. Lana makes following up a modern classic look easy.
Chemtrails over the Country Club is out now via Interscope/Polydor. Stream it and watch the new "White Dress" video (and two previous videos) below.
UPDATE: Lana says she already has another new album coming in June.