Wednesday 7 April 2021

Review of 'Chemtrails Over The Country Club' by Lana Del Rey

It’s time for a new album from the baroness of bleakness. The duchess of dejection. The monarch of melancholia. THE SULTANA OF SADNESS. Why am I introducing here like a wrestler??? It’s LANA DEL REY.

Despite spending her career writing nothing but sad music, Lana has managed to inject a lot of variety into her sad sound by exploring different shades of blue. The grim-and-fatalistic blue-grey of Ultraviolence was very different in tone to the hurting-but-hopeful sky blue of Lust For Life. Her last album Norman Fucking Rockwell meanwhile saw her exploring all kinds of different tones of blue.

Now on Chemtrails Over The Country Club, the theme is very much Americana nostalgia. Almost every track sees Lana dreamily recounting the past, doubling down on the Americana cliches with lines like ‘I was a waitress wearing a white dress’ and ‘we should go back to Arkansas’, while also cutting down on the f-bombs in favour of a more innocent sense of longing. I’m not sure what shade of blue this new nostalgic tone represents. Maybe like a rose-tinted blue? Wait, isn’t that purple? I didn’t really think this colour analogy through. The point is - Lana has yet again succeeded in channelling a different style of sad.

Instrumentally, the album is a lot more stripped back. In fact, the first five tracks are all bare piano ballads with percussion reduced to a murmur. It reminds me of the second half of NFR, which was also made up entirely of bare piano ballads (a lot of people consider NFR her best work, but personally I thought the sluggish second half let it down - and this album takes a similar sluggish approach). The pace picks ups on the sixth track ‘Dark But Just A Game’, which features a more urban flavour, and there are a few notable stylistic detours towards the back end such as bluesy Joni Mitchell tribute ‘Dance Til We Die’. However, for the most part it’s all very subdued, often using dime-a-dozen chord progressions. The result is, well, kinda boring.

The only advantage of these stripped-back instrumentals is that they give Lana’s vocals more room to shine. Lana’s singing has continued to improve on each album and on COTCC her voice has never sounded so pretty or emotive. The fluttering high notes on ‘Not All Who Wonder Are Lost’ are utterly angelic and she’s never sounded as convincingly devastated as she does on the sighed-out verses of ‘Yosemite’. I’m still not keen on the raspy and clunky chorus of ‘White Dress’ (read my review of the track here), although I do think it’s an intentional vocal effect rather than her simply singing above her vocal range as I first assumed.

Lana’s hypnotic voice is often able to make up for the dreary instrumentals. She’s even able to breathe new life into some of the tired cliches that make up many of the lyrics (there are fortunately no tracks on this album as cliche-ridden as NFR’s ‘California’). I would have personally preferred a few more livelier tracks like ‘Dark But Just A Game’ – a lot of the piano ballads here are too subtle for my liking. Still, it makes for a nice palate cleanser after all the noisy post-punk I’ve been listening to recently.