Lana Del Rey
Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Polydor / Interscope · March 19, 2021
Filled with her signature vocals and Americana-infused lyrics, Lana Del Rey’s latest release, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, blends her recognizable musical style with more folk influences. Her sixth full-length album brings audiences a beautiful, but sedating and underwhelming new addition to her discography given her history of delivering over-the-top narratives in her work.
Del Rey’s presence in pop culture has been a force over the last near-decade since the release of her debut, Born To Die, in which she established herself as an elusive but intriguing figure. Her persona of a reckless, passionate, and cinematic American youth combined with influences of classic old Hollywood glamor was so exaggerated that one couldn’t tell if she was crafting the character on purpose or if she truly believed that’s who she was. Regardless, Del Rey certainly confirmed her knack for storytelling through the lens of a character living the American dream, and these genre-defining and culturally impactful stylistic choices have carried her through her career in the years since. The image through which she presents herself on her records has shifted over time, as she has grown as an artist. However, her distinct musical sound, an aspect which she has kept nearly consistent since the start of her career, has also set her apart from other artists in the industry.
On Del Rey’s latest album, there are obvious musical successes, such as its delicacy in vocals and accompaniment. There’s also evidence of her continuation of the musical styles from Norman Fucking Rockwell, where she experimented with new production styles due to her collaboration with Jack Antonoff. Tracks like “Wild At Heart” and “Dark But Just A Game” hint at the previous album: the former sounds similar to “Venice Bitch” in its accompaniment through the chorus, and the latter mimics the distinct chord progression of “The greatest.” These details could have made Chemtrails feel like a sequel to NFR had they been more developed and carried out into the rest of the body of work, but keeping these details sporadic also enabled Del Rey to take on a new sound for the album.
In songs like “White Dress” and “Dance Till We Die,” Del Rey ventures into lesser-used areas of her vocal range, giving the album something new. “Yosemite” feels like a return to her earlier music, with eerie vocals that drop and rise in the chorus and then play through a radio-like filter partway through the song. The variation throughout the vocals of the song, alongside a steady, sometimes somber guitar accompaniment, make this song a standout on the album. The final track, “For Free,” features Zella Day and Weyes Blood over a twinkling piano accompaniment. It’s an interesting choice for the closer, given that the song ends on a verse sung by Weyes Blood, but it has soothing harmonies and an appropriate tone for a closing song. However, the other aspects of larger storytelling throughout the album feel stale.
Del Rey’s strong suit has always been storytelling through some sort of persona, whether it be the version of her that’s facing time at Riker’s Island or getting down to beat poetry in Brooklyn. Creating these personas makes her storytelling exciting as the lines between her fantasy and reality are blurred; realism is not something that fans tend to expect with her (especially given that sometimes, when she opens up, it makes her image worse). This makes the direction of Chemtrails feel like a mismatch for Del Rey. It’s folk-inspired and minimalist, which tends to suit someone aiming for a more soul-bearing, raw representation of the human experience – precisely the opposite of Lana Del Rey.
It’s not that the album isn’t good musically, but perhaps this album indicates that she has already gone through all the tropes that she can think of and has run out of – for lack of polite phrasing – gimmicks. This change might be intentional or, it could be an indicator that she has become less interested in crafting a persona. It’s possible that, after a decade, she’s feeling increasingly inspired to infuse her own unfiltered identity into her music. This is a perfectly acceptable thing for an artist to do as they evolve, but perhaps the disappointment comes from the fact that Lana Del Rey was more alluring the less we knew about her.