Album Review – Norman Fucking Rockwell!


(nme.com)

Norman Rockwell was an American painter, illustrator, and author best known for depicting American culture in his paintings: nuclear families, football heroes, and proudly serving soldiers. The American Dream he portrays is still an idyllic, albeit somewhat delusional goal for many, and Lana Del Rey’s soft/psych rock album Norman Fucking Rockwell! paints a portrait of how this longing and pining for the unattainable ultimately lets you down. From the album name and endless references in her music, Del Rey is a human archive of iconic music and literature. Her fifth studio album, produced by Jack Antonoff, is no exception. On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey reimagines Cyndi Lauper lyrics and covers Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” bringing her music from her usual 70s landscape to a more modern 90s setting with classic rock influences.

On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey is at her most vulnerable and her most critical. She revisits her favorite themes of heartbreak, America, and femininity, but without the rose-colored glasses that romanticise her earlier songs. It’s easy to ignore all the different parts of female singer-songwriter’s songs but Del Rey’s strong suit is her writing and her voice, and her music acknowledges this. This is best illustrated in the experimental “Venice Bitch”: 70s-inspired synths and strings slowly build up over 8 minutes, before a final moment of calm reveals the small and intimate “If you weren’t mine, I’d be / Jealous of your love,” repeated until the music stops, leaving only her voice to be heard. This contrasts with the rest of the album, where she is mostly backed by a strong piano and subdued drums.

Akin to her older work, if you stop paying attention Norman Fucking Rockwell! blends into one long melancholic ballad. However, this does not stop each track from shining on its own. The title track “Norman Fucking Rockwell” reflects the state of the American Dream, right now, Del Rey told Vanity Fair. The album’s first single, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” pushes away the ideals and conceptions forced on her with a heavy, powerful piano part. “Doin’ Time” stands out as a definitive summer track, tweaked from Sublime’s original to incorporate her hip-hop influences with lines like: “well-qualified to represent the L.B.C (Long Beach, California).” “Cinnamon Girl” is a bittersweet ballad about toxic love, with the lyrics “like if you hold me without hurting me / you’ll be the first who ever did,” appealing to both the hopeless romantic and doubting cynic. 

The closing track, “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it,” is a tender, conclusive ballad. The song discusses being a complicated, flawed woman who lives in “joyous positive and despairing negative” amidst the intrusions of fame, the demands of modern culture and, most importantly, hope for what’s to come. Del Rey pays homage to one of her biggest inspirations with the line “24/7 Sylvia Plath / Writing in blood on my walls/ ‘Cause the ink in my pen don’t work in my notepad,” she shows us that within her music is the deepest and truest parts of herself. For the hour and seven minutes of this album, we get to see the world through this most ethereal artist.  

Written by Yara Shaheen-Abuelreish

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