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Lana Del Rey fights for survival on Norman Fucking Rockwell

By Louise Bruton

 

“Goddamn, man-child. You fucked me so good that I almost said ‘I love you’.”

And with stinging nonchalance, Lana Del Rey makes a fresh start on Norman Fucking Rockwell, her fifth studio album. Killing off the girl who would die for her baby, kill for her baby or go to jail for her baby, she introduces us to the world-worn woman who has the bite to utter “Why wait for the best when I could have you?”

 


Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

 Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!


While she may have taken a fantastist’s approach to the American Dream and relationships on previous albums, this doesn’t feel like a reinvention; it’s a reawakening. Bolstered by 70s guitars, trap beats and instrumental interludes, stagnant relationships, toxic masculinity, crash-course politics, contradictory modernity and global doom are on her radar and she is taking close to no prisoners. Her smoky voice wraps around barbed lyrics like  “They mistook my kindness for weakness. I fucked up, I know that, but Jesus, can't a girl just do the best she can?” on Mariners Apartment Complex, proving that she’s had just enough of people underestimating her worth.


Del Rey has battled critics who question her authenticity but, like Bruce Springsteen, she has that rare ability to play her own experiences into other people’s stories and vice versa. How to Disappear, with its slowed down, doo wop sway, is a heartbreaking tale of how emotional shutdowns can rattle us more than fist fights or crashing waves. The Greatest is one perfectly-crafted, fiery inferno of pop culture mixed with flashes of global decay. Capturing the generational zeitgeist,  in a stream of whispered consciousness, she recounts: “L.A. is in flames‚ it's getting hot. Kanye West is blond and gone. Life on Mars ain't just a song. I hope the live stream's almost on…”  


When her finger isn’t firmly on the weakening pulse of everything that’s warped and wrong in the world, she hits even deeper when she goes personal. Fuck It I Love You compares the self-destruction of love to when she used to “shoot up my veins in neon”. In  blind devotion to this dangerous affair, she can’t help but give into temptation and give her all. Glimmers of the stone-cold romantic we’re so familiar with shine through this new armour of apathy and, driving an irrefusable bargain on California, she promises her lover that if they just come back, she’ll provide them with parties, liquor, cigarettes or old times that can’t be replicated. An old soul with New Age ideologies, she applies subtle little nuggets of modernity that signify which era her muddied relationships exists. “Do you want me or do you not? I heard one thing, now I'm hearing another. Dropped a pin to my parking spot. The bar was hot, it's 2AM, it feels like summer,” she sings on Happiness is a Butterfly, capturing the fading glamour and sadness of times gone by and jolting them into today. 


The piano ballad  Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – but I Have It  takes societal norms and turns them into the horror show that they are. Where people expect her to smile like a docile debutante, instead she’s “tearing up town in my fucking white gown like a goddamn near sociopath”. Hanging around with layabouts and living like a ghost through technology, she’s screaming in the hallways and scribbling blood on the walls. Trapped in the world and haunted by her mind, she’s stuck but as long as she’s here, she will find a way to survive. From anyone else’s lips, it’s desperation but for Del Rey, it’s hope.