Lana Del Rey’s spoken word poetry album triumphs as a transcendent dreamscape

Lana Del Rey
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Grade: 4.0 / 5.0

Lana Del Rey visits her deepest insecurities and aspirations with her debut spoken word poetry album “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.” Narrated by Del Rey herself, the 39-minute audiobook is uplifted by light music produced by singer-songwriter and record producer Jack Antonoff. This release comes a few months after Del Rey faced backlash: The artist, who has been previously criticized for romanticizing abuse in her music, issued a controversial Instagram post that called out double standards in the music industry and implied that some artists — mostly women of color — have not received the same amount of criticism as she has.

Del Rey’s album, however, leaves controversy behind entirely to focus inward on passion and self-consciousness. “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is a heavenly succession of fluttering memories, half-finished thoughts and intimate juxtapositions. Del Rey navigates the calm and the chaos of life with both quiet nonchalance and wild desperation. She examines her perception of the metaphysical, wandering into the wildest scopes of her mind while simultaneously planting her listeners in reality.

Her spoken word album is not a reading, but a performance. Sometimes she speaks calmly or blithely: She quietly admits that she’s “pathetic, I know” in “SportCruiser,” a candid anecdote about her fear of trusting herself. Other times, her words spill out of her mouth rhythmically but desperately, even fearfully: She begs to be understood in “Salamander,” and she gasps for breath in “The Land of 1,000 Fires” as it swells to a crescendo of claustrophobic trepidation.

“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is a volume of solely personal reflection — a double-edged sword for poetry. It’s far from an album of conceit, but Del Rey is so focused on her own emotions and experiences that she intermittently forgets to make connections to the world. Though Del Rey’s album exposes her as more of a songwriter than a poet, this fact does little to detract from the collection’s high points.

Del Rey beautifully breathes life into conventional symbols, bending them to her will. She associates blossoms with loss — loss of time in “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass,” of loved ones in “My Bedroom Is a Sacred Place Now – There Are Children at the Foot of My Bed” — but also with comfort and positive change. As a queen of dream pop, Del Rey also returns to her characteristic symbols of romantic-tragic mystique, such as vibrant California beaches and trailing cigarette smoke.

Her album establishes a whimsical intimacy both through her poetry and Antonoff’s supportive music. Some poems, such as “Past the Bushes Cypress Thriving” and “Never to Heaven,” are polished productionwise with serene tones and striking chords. Others are wrapped in ambient white noise as if recorded as a casual voice memo, reminding her listeners of reality. The ode “LA Who Am I to Love You?” enchantingly unites both the gentle, natural sound of a city and striking eerie piano. Urgent violin envelops the intense poem “Bare Feet on Linoleum,” beginning and ending with overlapping voices that suggest chaos, while the orchestral finish of “Paradise Is Very Fragile” oozes an eerie pessimism.

Del Rey’s album also includes soothing streams of consciousness. She recalls some of her most joyous moments in “Happy,” her lengthy stanzas drifting off to end with thoughtful pauses and whispers of the single word “happy.” Elsewhere, she muses about the importance of living in the present with “Never to Heaven,” an otherworldly and honest poem.

Hasty but nevertheless magnificent, Del Rey’s titular track encapsulates the album immaculately. She describes herself wandering past a smiling child on grass “with the exuberance that only doing nothing can bring/ Waiting for the fireworks to begin,” and she decides “to do nothing about everything.” It is a surreal scene of utter simplicity, innocence and serenity. This is the essence of her poetry — simple yet enlightening, visionary yet grounded.

Del Rey walks the delicate line between fantasy and truth with her poetry, maintaining balance with a radiant softness. Rich with bittersweet stories and celestial themes, her debut “Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass” is a picturesque, ethereal escape.