Georgie Holt reviews Lana Del Rey's new album for Lippy
Releasing 8 studio albums in almost as many years is an impressive feat. Lana Del Rey’s (b. Elizabeth Grant) songwriting, vocal style, social media presence, performance ability and musical talent have all come under intense scrutiny. Her latest record, Blue Banisters, was awaited, if not with eagerness, then at least with mild interest-as the first singles from the album were released close on the heels of her previous as album Chemtrails Over the Country Club. With listeners and critics absorbed with that, little attention was paid to the Blue Bannisters or Wildflower Wildfire singles. Having taken an increasingly stripped back approach to her music and exploring herself rather than Lana the character, her later albums are marked by a more mature if still incredibly- on brand Lana sound. Blue Bannisters, coming after two such albums, a spoken word/poetry album and a published poetry collection, had a faint promise of presenting a new direction for Grant’s music.
Textbook is a weak start to the album, with strong Chemtrails B-side vibes (after looking it up, I found that a lot of the tracks were offcuts from previous projects). The offbeat drums and on the nose songwriting make it sound like a take that shouldn’t have made the cut, a formulaic chorus attached to a patchy verse in order to use two mediocre ideas.
Blue Banisters is another wavering imagistic Lana classic that would have come from Honeymoon or Chemtrails. Even more stripped back than Norman Fucking Rockwell, her interest in spoken word and poetry in Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass has placed a greater focus on song writing, but not with the same success as Chemtrails, with the airy synths and piano erring on simpering rather than restrained intensity. As always, the production is slick, with a range of different levels of fidelity that layer up sounds, vocals and instrumentation. However, It takes track three with Arcadia for us to hear a chord we haven’t heard before in a Lana song. This sense of newness doesn’t last long: ‘You trace with your fingertips like a Toyota, run your hands over me like a land rover’ just doesn’t cut the mustard. At this point, it’s not even the Americana image it’s just big cars now. Although her love of cheesy roadhouse singing has a place, it’s hindering her sound. Interlude- the trio finally offers more of an interesting sound, with a Morricone-trap beat. Barely a minute long, the refreshment it provides is greatly needed, both a testament to its sound and the record’s lack of inspiration up to now.
Black Bathing Suit is a good song, more of what we know, albeit the better stuff. Edge of the desert chord progressions, lyrics professing her being ‘complicated’; the sad laughing that comes intermittently through gives BBS a bit more about it and is probably the first time I’ve wanted to listen to one of the tracks more than once. That being said, it hasn’t made it onto Spotify’s This Is Lana Del Rey playlist - so what do I know? This third-way point of the album shows a Ultraviolence-y song being put over slightly different instrumentation, this time it’s a swing section in If You Lie Down Next To Me. The sad part is the track peaks in the final section when the lyrics end. The lo-fi brass breaks up what is otherwise so far just a Chemtrails-Ultraviolence B-sides album.
I’ve forced many hours of wavering Lana onto my friends and parents, to the extent my mum calls her Moaning Minnie. She’s been such a formative force in my listening tastes. But when she released Lust for Life, I was happy for some iconoclasm, an entering into the world and an exit from a purely imagined character of Video Games-Lana. Since then there’s been no big shake ups, the mid point of the album is the best evidence for this, it’s Lana filler tracks at their most blatant, simplistic and uninspired.
Dealer brings in a strong indie beat that reeks of Miles Kane’s writing credits. It’s no coincidence that this one sounds like her doing a cover of a last shadow puppets song; like a fairly decent Soundcloud find. Lana always has a mix of people on her albums, it does make you wonder how some of these lyrics get through. Thunder had pretty promising songwriting until this made me pause the album to consider this lyric profoundly. It’s not quite the Toyota one, but it’s not ideal really.
‘You like Mr Brightside when you’re with your friends’. I’m also pretty sure she’s being sponsored by Nike.
The tail end of the album shows a bit of a turn in songwriting, Cherry presents the album’s best: confessional and elusive, but Sweet Carolina is when we finally get to see some wry humour. ‘Crypto forever screams your stupid boyfriend/ fuck you Kevin.’
If the rest of the album had been like last three tracks this could have been a different story, but Blue Banisters neither offers the fan service of repeating a perfected formula nor pushes new boundaries musically or lyrically. Albums have become increasingly candid, but possibly past the point of beauty now. It’s 2 stars from me.
Words by Georgie Holt