Lana Del Rey Overflies with New Album
I was excited to hear the new Lana Del Rey album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club. I’m a big Lana Del Rey fan and have enjoyed watching her evolve over the years starting with her first album, Born to Die in 2012. Her music is often called Sadcore because of it’s melancholic sound, slow pacing, and themes of loss and despair. Personally, I reject that categorization. Much of her music is as angry, upbeat, or just love songs (“West Coast” from Ultraviolence and “Fuck It I Love You” from Norman Fucking Rockwell come to mind. ) as any other pop music. Lana Del Rey’s pastiche of jazz , trip hop — she’s one of the current standard bearers for trip hop -, and pop is unique and refreshing. Even more important, she has continued to evolve over the years, refining the original formula, and gaining a voice beyond “I’m sad because my life isn’t working out.”
It is because of her evolution from one trick pony to complex singer-songwriter that her latest album Chemtrails Over The Country Club is so disappointing. There’s very little new here and what is new isn’t good. Probably the best song on the album — and it is a very good song- “Let Me Love You Like A Woman” is standard Del Rey fare. Released as a single at the end of 2020, it the kind of song that could have been on any of her albums. “Let Me Love You Like A Woman” will likely show up on Lana Del Rey “best of” and “This is” playlists but is not likely to gain traction like “Ultraviolence”, “Young and Beautiful”, or “Summertime Sadness” did.
If the songs were all like “Let Me Love You Live A Woman”, good Lana Del Rey songs, the album would be worthwhile if not exciting. Unfortunately, there are some downright terrible songs on the album mixed in with a lot of forgettable tunes.
One of the worse is the lead off, and most recent single, “White Dress.” A hot mess of a song, it’s nearly tuneless, dull, and murky. The biggest sin of this song is the vocals. Del Rey sings parts of the song in this high, hushed voice. Hushed lyrics work for Billie Eilish because of of vocal range that allows her to go deep into the alto range. This produces a sound that is resonant and evokes a sense of mystery. Eilish uses this to effect on one of her more recent song, “Therefore I Am.” When Lana Del Rey tries to do the same think, with her high soprano, she just sounds out of breath, as if she is struggling to hit a note that is just out of reach. The hushed singing on “White Dress” comes across as a vocal failure rather than emotional lift.
The rest of the album sounds mostly like outtakes from earlier albums. “Dance Till We Die”, for example, comes across like a more depressing early draft of “Young and Beautiful.” Del Rey also seems to have lost her trip hop beats, rendering too many songs just slow instead of chill.
Chemtrails Over The Country Club should worry Lana Del Rey fans. I know it worries me. Perhaps the pandemic has disrupted her creative process and she has temporarily lost her center. Maybe she owed the record company an album and phoned it in. I hope that’s all it is. More concerning is that she is running out of ideas, both lyrically and musically, and resorting to gimmicks that don’t work for her, like the hushed vocals.
Lana Del Rey is a singular talent. Let’s hope this latest album is just a bump in the road and not ten miles of car swallowing sinkholes. It would be a terrible shame to see her fade away after less than ten years. Even worse would be to watch her self destruct into a series of terrible albums that cast a pall over her entire career.
For the moment, all we can do is watch what happens with her next set of singles and albums, looking for a signal of what is to come next. Evolution cuts both ways. Things can improve or become no longer viable.
And for the sake of all that is holy, don’t watch the video of “White Dress.” It will just make the song seem more vapid and stupid.