Lana Del Rey’s fifth album, Norman F—ing Rockwell, elegantly and chillingly captures the decay of the American dream in a quintessentially Del Rey manner through dark lyrics full of Californian imagery and languid pop.
Del Rey worked with producer and musician Jack Antonoff (lead singer of Bleachers) for this album, which was released last month. It feels a bit disordered in that the tracks don’t quite flow with one another, but the messiness sets the tone for an album that wrestles with the confusing state of American culture.
“You’re beautiful and I’m insane,” Del Rey sings. “We’re American-made.”
The feelings I got from listening to this new album are as real as the original Norman Rockwell painting in Ryan Library. The opening title balled draws us into Del Rey’s sad vision of romantic love, singing about how her man “colors her blue.” Following the opening song is “Mariners Apartment Complex.” another heartbreak ballad, leading into “Venice B—-,” a nine-minute psychedelic whirl of guitar tracks and honey-like vocals.
One highlight of the album is Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” with instrumentals that reminded me of her 2012 hit “Video Games.”
Later in the album comes “The greatest,” a nostalgic, protest-like song, in which Del Rey declares “The culture is lit,” and she’s starting to feel “burned out after all.” The song makes references to American events in the past year that have contributed to this sense of discord and burnout, such as “Hawaii just missed that fireball” and “L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot.”
Her track “Happiness is a butterfly” illustrates the dissonance in waiting and longing for happiness. America is so yearning for good news, but, alas, happiness is a butterfly, escaping from our hands “into moonlight.” Happiness is fleeting, and it’s time to burn our fantasies to the ground, do our best and live in reality. As Del Rey sings in “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “Can’t a girl just do the best she can?”
The final track of the album leaves us with devastating hopefulness: “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have, but I have it,” Del Rey sings, in an almost prayerful manner, like she’s trying to convince herself of it. Hope is not happiness (“They write that I’m happy, they know that I’m not”) or empty positivity, but it is overwhelmingly serious, even dangerous. There is power in words, and the claiming of this dangerous hope might be enough to push through the burning out of this “lit” culture. Maybe in hanging onto dangerous hope we will be able to catch happiness in its fleetingness, even if just for a moment—one way being listening to this album.