Lana Del Rey

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Lana del Ray (2010), 4/10
Born To Die (2012), 5/10
Ultraviolence (2014), 7/10
Honeymoon (2015), 6.5/10
Lust for Life (2017), 5/10
Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019), 6/10
Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass (2020), 3/10
Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021), 5/10
Blue Banisters (2021), 4/10
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd (2023), 4.5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

New York's singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey (born Elizabeth Grant), who had already released the three-song EP Kill Kill (5 Points, 2008) under the moniker Lizzy Grant and the album Lana Del Ray (5 Points, 2010), produced by David Kahne, emerged thanks to the hit singles Video Games (her bedroom-confessional hymn-manifesto) and Blue Jeans, reminiscent of both old-fashioned torch ballads and atmospheric chamber pop. Born To Die (Polydor, 2012), produced by Emile Haynie, was, however, a collection of filler around those hits, heavy on hip-hop beats (Summertime Sadness).

The EP Paradise (2013) contains Ride, an elegant and solemn Rick Rubin-produced bolero and crescendo.

Ultraviolence (Interscope, 2014), produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, jettisoned the hip-hop beats and, by that single move, achieved a much deeper sense of sincerity. Cruel World is the ultimate cry of loneliness, with psychedelic overtones and reminiscent of Jim Steinman's teen melodramas (the melody spirals up in a manner similar to Bonnie Tyler's hit Total Eclipse Of The Heart). West Coast is a blues lament derailed by details such as a soprano surge and a vintage guitar twang, which appropriately segues into the slow-burning, martial, plantation chant Sad Girl, perhaps the peak of pathos. Shades Of Cool weaves its tenderness around a desperate melismatic yodel, a waltzing tempo and a stoic guitar solo (and well disguised is the influence of Janis Joplin on this structure). It gets even sadder than that, in the funereal Pretty When You Cry, whose grandiose finale borrows from Kate Bush and Pink Floyd. The rest is filler. As a five-song EP, this would have been a masterpiece.

Honeymoon (Interscope, 2015), produced by Kieron Menzies and Rick Nowels, abandoned the guitar-based sound of Ultraviolence and returned instead to the lush arrangements of Born to Die but with an impressive knack of crafting tender melodies. After Honeymoon, five minutes of nerve-wracking orchestral pop muzak, Del Rey slowly and methodically delivers the stately elegy of single Music to Watch Boys To with a flute reminiscent of the Moody Blues' Night in White Satin and a soft Latin rhythm. Another hypnotic melody floats in the gentle exotic-trap shuffle Art Deco with orchestral swells and a brief jazz clarinet. Her vocal delivery rarely veers away from a simple steady mellow colloquial tone. She adapts it to different formats of music, from the piano ballad Terrence Loves You to the folkish lullabye God Knows I Tried, from the childish rigmarole of single High by the Beach (over a trap beat). Emblematic of this approach is the folkish singalong Religion that weds a soft letargic rhythm and sleeping strings. She seems to faint as she intones over and over again the anaemic refrain of the six-minute The Blackest Day with a moribund tone better suited for exoteric ceremonial music. The album flows smoothly away from the listener like a receding tide.

Having become the queen of malencholy pop and of languid tempos, Lana Del Rey downplayed the arrangements altogether on Lust for Life (Polydor, 2017), engineered by an army of producers (including the usual Rick Nowels and Kieron Menzies) and featuring several guests. Such is the fate of the rather lame single Love, of the anthemic Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind, of the piano ballad Beautiful People Beautiful Problems (that is rescued by the Fleetwood Mac's vocalist Stevie Nicks), of Groupie Love, one of the handful songs that sounds like from the 1950s, of Get Free, the one that sounds like from the girl-groups of the 1960s, of the austere Joni Mitchell-esque piano ballad Change, and of Cherry, a gloomy pop-soul ballad in the vein of Portishead’s trip-hop. The Kate Bush-esque In My Feelings finally displays a rousing refrain, and the album breaths back to life with Lust For Life, a collaboration with the Weeknd that revisits the synth-pop of the 1980s with meaty beats, bells and synth. On the previous album Del Rey seemed to enjoy unlimited inspiration for charming melodies. Here she's forcing herself to imitate that musical profusion. The results are sometimes awkward, like in the orchestral grandeur and booming martial rhythm of 13 Beaches, and in the trap-fueled Summer Bummer that features Playboi Carti and ASAP Rocky and belongs to a different album (a hip-hop album, and not a very good one).

The stripped-down arrangements and the gloomy lyrics of Norman Fucking Rockwell (Interscope, 2019), produced by Jack Antonoff, work well for the feathery piano elegy Mariners Apartment Complex. The emotional spectrum is actually broad, stretching from the Serge Gainsbourg-ian erotic lullaby Fuck It I Love You to the noir-downtempo Cinnamon Girl. Antonoff's guitar interferes quite a bit with Del Rey's vocals, but the two find a gentle balance in the first half of the nine-minute Venice Bitch (alas, disfigured halfway by a tediously lengthy rowdy solo).

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass (2020) is an album of spoken-word poetry.

Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021) opted for a folkier sound but the repertory is not terribly exciting. The austere tone of Joni Mitchell dominates White Dress and shows the emotional depth of her vocal theater. In fact, for the first time it's her voice that towers over the proceedings, whether vulnerable like in the ethereal elegy Wild at Heart or malleable like in the more mainstream ballad Dark But Just a Game or evocative like in Not All Who Wander Are Lost (a title stolen from Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings"). Most of the songs are uneventful, and therefore the quality of the singing becomes a key factor. In such a monotonous parade the country breakdown inside Dance Till We Die sounds memorable. Best are probably the naive nursery-rhyme Chemtrails Over the Country Club and the floating Enya-esque lullaby Let Me Love You Like a Woman.

The following album, Blue Banisters (2021) the first one not produced by Jack Antonoff, sounded even more monotonous. Mostly a collection of leftovers, it only proved that she was neither a great poet nor a great singer. And her producers were not great producers either as some of the production choices were just awful.

Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd (2023), mainly produced by Jack Antonoff, is a bloated album but it contains a few gems: the seven-minute A&W (crafted by Jack Antonoff and Sam Dew), a brainy and crystalline piano ballad with intricate vocal harmonies and a meandering digital backbone; the sparse drum-less piano ballad Kitsugi; the waltzing Paris Texas; and the orchestral country elegy Let The Light In (a collaboration with producer Drew Erickson and songwriters Mike Hermosa and Benji Lysaght). Even these songs are not particularly impressive. The rest ranges from shapeless to sleep-inducing. The electronic and syncopated Taco Truck x VB belongs to another album.

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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