Album Review: Lana del Rey – ‘Chemtrails Over The Country’

Dialing back the grandiosity in favor of lighter, more intimate moments, Lana Del Rey returns with a brand new record, her latest release since 2019’s triumphant Norman Fucking Rockwell. Elliot Fox unpicks the intricate qualities of the record, alongside assessing whether it tipped the highs of its predecessor.

In 2019, Lana Del Rey released the outstanding Norman Fucking Rockwell! (NFR), which received near-unanimous critical acclaim. She announced in a release day interview with The Times that her next album, White Hot Forever was already in the works and would sound much like its predecessor. Naturally then, fans and critics alike had high expectations for Lana’s sixth major-label album, and two delays and a name change later, Chemtrails Over The Country Club does not disappoint.

The record marks the completion of Del Rey’s transition to self-aware, mature songwriting, and much like NFR, every element here feels carefully orchestrated. A familiar, wide instrumental landscape of soft piano and subtle, groaning guitar lines is present throughout, and references to Lana’s previous works litter the album. The Melody writing here never pulls at the heartstrings quite as hard as the likes of Mariners Apartment Complex or The Greatest but is still powerful and alluring in songs such as Let Me Love You Like A Woman.

‘The instrumental treads an enticing tightrope of richness and spaciousness, which is likely a tribute to Jack Antonoff’s talent.’

The record opens with White Dress, which sees Lana venturing to the uppermost limit of her vocal range, resulting in a piercing half-whisper. This combined with her crammed delivery of “down at-the-men-in-music BUSiness conference” is a jarring yet respectable attempt to convey Del Rey’s particular brand of nostalgic longing in a new way. The song epitomizes the album, and lyrics like Listening To White Stripes foreshadow Lana’s continued appeal to a more ‘alternative’ audience. Fans of Lana will have experienced the haunting atmosphere of Chemtrails Over The Country Club and the intimate balladry of Let Me Love You Like A Woman before.

The tone of the title track is satisfyingly forlorn, but the convoluted melody and lack of a strong message make it less remarkable than it might have been. This is not true of Del Rey’s other single, however, which boasts a beautiful melody, warm delivery, and simple, affectionate lyricism. The heavily auto-tuned vocals that appear in Tulsa Jesus Freak and the engulfing bass of Dark But Just A Game are the closest Lana comes to reviving the trap-influenced style of her fourth album Lust For Life. The latter really stands out on the album for its insidious, descending chords and dramatic changes of mood between sections. The first instrumental treads an enticing tightrope of richness and spaciousness, which is likely a tribute to Jack Antonoff’s incredible talent for composition.

If the song Wild At Heart sounds familiar, it’s almost definitely intentional. The tremolo guitar line, swelling pads, and floaty bass of the chorus might as well have been copied and pasted from How To Disappear, and both songs mention ‘John’, perhaps suggesting that they tell different parts of the same story. The track also borrows melodies from Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have – But I Have It, and whether this recycling of content is the result of laziness or intelligent self-referencing is open for interpretation. A highlight of Yosemite is the recurrence of “No more candle in the wind,” which represents Del Rey’s rejection of the ‘sex icon’ role, pioneered by Marilyn Monroe, which so commonly comes attached to pop stardom. Unfortunately, although the surrounding tracks Not All Who Wander Are Lost and Breaking Up Slowly are both pleasant, their choruses are quite generic, sometimes to the point of cliche, and nothing here is memorable or unique enough to demand repeated listening.

Dance Till We Die, however, does tread new ground for Del Rey and solidifies her ventures in ‘meta’ lyricism with “I’m covering Joni and I'm dancing with Joan,” a presage of the final track. The smooth arrival of a groovy, upbeat middle section in this otherwise tranquil song is very derivative of David Bowie (who Lana referenced extensively on her last record) but is nevertheless a refreshing change, guaranteed to get your head bobbing. The closing track on the album is a beautiful, drawn-out cover of Joni Mitchell’s For Free. It’s an excellent choice of cover whose lyrics take on new meaning in the context of this album, providing a graceful metaphor for Lana’s feelings towards her own exploitation in the music industry. Zella Day’s delivery gives a subtly different flavour of ‘airy’ to the first section of the song, where Weyes Blood is a chilling replica of Joni Mitchell herself in the final verse.

‘This ‘next best’ American record is ridden with passionate, despairing performances of well-written songs.’

Chemtrails Over The Country Club might not be the miracle album to outshine Lana Del Rey’s 2019 masterpiece, but that’s not to say there isn’t a wealth of stunning music to discover in her most recent offering. This ‘next best’ American record is ridden with passionate, despairing performances of well-written songs over meticulously produced, lush instrumentation; and the result is a beautiful, effortless listen from start to finish. It might ultimately be more of the same, but that is what we asked for, so how could we possibly complain?

Written by: Elliot Fox

Edited by: Alex Duke

Featured image courtesy of Lana Del Rey via Facebook.