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Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Album Review)

Thursday, 25 March 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Whispered and intimate, Lana Del Rey’s fragile croon is full of magical recollection as it threatens to crack with joy over a delicate piano line. When the revelatory White Dress ends, some trademark melancholy creeps in as she wonders if she was better off in her carefree, pre-fame days. At this point something becomes crystal clear: we’re not listening to Lana Del Rey. We're in the presence of Lizzy Grant.

A magnetic enigma since 2011’s viral smash Video Games made her an instant star, Del Rey’s brand of sweeping, evocative sadcore has always transfixed, riled and raised seemingly unanswerable questions about her artistic authenticity. Delivered with a certain cool, emotional distance through a carefully cultivated persona, suspicions remained that the singer was deploying a tapestry of anachronistic iconography, grandiose imagery and provocative lyrics to keep her truth under wraps.

As such, ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’ isn’t just an unguarded and autobiographical album, it also sheds light on both previous artistic choices and why it’s taken so long for the real Elizabeth Woolridge Grant to appear.

When everything about you has been consistently analysed to death, something that doesn’t show any signs of stopping, opening up as Del Rey does on Let Me Love You Like A Woman, the gorgeously nostalgic Yosemite and melodiously waltzing title track can be daunting. 

Possibly buoyed by both the critical success of 2019’s ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’ and the acceptance that it brought, it was clearly the right time to chronicle and dissect the complex ambiguities of her life. Exploring the polarities of being an unknown singer in love with her art, and how fame and the music business subsequently made her feel like a “candle in the wind”, there’s a revealing bent to the Beatles gone trip-hop number It’s Dark But Just A Game and gloriously uplifting Dance Till We Die.

This first person storytelling is rich with relatable verisimilitude, touching on everything from past addictions, inner conflicts, familial ties and formative experiences as she grieves for simpler times and strives for a sense of post-fame self. Thanks to a stripped back singer-songwriter approach that echoes Taylor Swift’s recent releases, as well as the sparse, empathetic arrangements of super-producer Jack Antonoff and some canny vocal choices, there’s an inviting humanity and warmth to the storytelling that’s rarely been present in her epic, retro-cinematic soundscapes.  

Familiar motifs such as reverb-rich, multi-layered harmonies are still present and as beguiling as ever. Yet, allied to this more personable approach, typically enchanting melodies mesmerise more than ever, gliding with balletic grace as she predominantly employs a softer, sweeter, more grounded delivery that’s a world away from her doomy lower register.

Del Rey has always revelled in destroying pristine superficial illusions, particularly when exposing the dark reality festering beneath the failed American dream. This time, however, she’s wilfully shattered her own veneer, dropping those defences to create a subtly compelling, dare we say very accessible, record full of authentic detail and unimpeachable, heart-on-sleeve veracity.

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