Lana Del Rey’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ bangs, we said ‘I love you’

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Grade: 5.0/5.0 

The California image is effortlessly one of the dreamiest visions one could conjure up: palm trees, sunglass-sporting beauties, bottles of rosé and red convertibles around every beachside villa. No one epitomizes this aesthetic better than the Golden State’s serenader — though strangely enough, born in New York — Lana Del Rey. 

On her latest release, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, the self-proclaimed “gangster Nancy Sinatra” waxes poetic about the glamour and glory of the Pacific coast just as she has since 2012’s Born to Die.

The titular track of NFR! is a charming introduction to the bright album, showcasing the songstress’s velvety voice and raw talent. In the song, Del Rey sings of the frustration that accompanies a relationship with an immature partner. With a hefty “Goddamn, man-child,” the artist croons with romantic vocal runs and impactful instrumental piano chords.

The cover art for NFR! is especially different, an affectionate departure from the singer’s previous releases — the photo was taken by Del Rey’s sister, photographer Chuck Grant. On the cover, Del Rey is seen stretched out under the arm of actor Duke Nicholson, the grandson of the one and only Jack Nicholson. Her reaching hand is believed to be in reference to lyrics from the second song of the album, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” which says, “You lose your way, just take my hand/ You’re lost at sea, then I’ll command your boat to me again.” 

But no longer is Del Rey sitting in pearly white garb with a vehicle in view, as she was on her previous album covers — she’s the board, the lightning and the thunder, as the song’s lyrics affirm.

“Mariners Apartment Complex” was released as a single last year in anticipation of the album release. One of the most epicly written tracks of the singer’s career, the song details an unfavorable situation where her strength is mistaken for sadness. Although the 34-year-old basically invented sadcore during her career, her records have ventured into progressively brighter territory with each new single and album.

And it seems as though the artist fits a decade’s worth of experience in this one record, especially with songs like “Venice Bitch,” which clocks in at just under 10 minutes long. Even though the song drones on, every minute of it is worth the length, consistently adding new flavors to the recipe and spicing up the tune’s aura.  

One of the highlights of the album is an easy-listening cover of “Doin’ Time,” Del Rey’s sensual take on the original song by Sublime. The vibe of the track is arguably more suited to the luxurious voice of the songstress than of the original artist — Lana Del Rey’s otherworldly sound is just cool enough to make you feel as if you’re in a mental high, no matter how sober you may be.

The middle stretch of the album includes a number of slow ballads and lovesick melodramas. “How to disappear” is an especially saucy anthem, as the leisurely pace is weaved within a psychedelic jazz rhythm for a relaxing, emotional experience. California references and Americana motifs add an additional sense of wanderlust to the delicate coastal love notes.              

The most underrated song on the album is “The Next Best American Record,” which is in line with Del Rey’s familiar theme of fusing her romantic life with her professional life, seen previously in “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” and “Money Power Glory” on 2014’s Ultraviolence. After powering through the album, over an hour of alchemic emotions and breezy summertime poems, listeners can drift into the soothing track “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it.” 

Though the song title is a mouthful, these words embody the melancholic feelings expressed throughout the ballad. But the sentiments are not all dreary — the lyrics indicate Del Rey’s growth with lines like, “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not/ But at best, I can say I’m not sad.” A manic reflection on fame and the artist’s mental state, this incredibly personal song is a foolproof ending to NFR! 

With a new album out and a tour on the horizon, Lana Del Rey is ending the summer heat with a pour, sip and sigh to the tune of this wistful record. Summertime may be over, but the living is still easy on Norman Fucking Rockwell!

Skylar De Paul covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.