Thursday, March 25, 2021

ALBUM REVIEW: Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club

Is this it? Are we finally here? Okay, let's do it. Welcome back ladies and gentlemen. Lana Del Rey's new album is here. It's kind of crazy to think that next year, Born To Die is gonna be a decade old. In my opinion, that debut has aged incredibly well and it's wild to see the influence she's had on a lot of artists that have come out since then. Before I go on, I will make a confession. I've never been too crazy about Lana. I think she's always had a problem with consistency and a lot of times, her music just isn't for me. However, she completely converted me in 2019 with an incredible album that we know today as Norman F*cking Rockwell! Completely produced by Jack Antonoff, this album was lush, beautiful, and just amazing in every way. Maybe I was kind of slow to admit how much I liked it but once it clicked, I never turned back. Straight from the get-go, that opening line on the title track "God damn, manchild / You f*cked me so good that I almost said 'I love you,'" just, sheesh. Even Lana's writing, which I usually thought was pretty lackluster at times, was fantastic throughout the whole album. Her storytelling and her performances all throughout the album were just fantastic and I'm sort of mad that I slept on it for so long. 

So that leads us to now. Another album completely produced by Jack Antonoff and from the teaser tracks, I expected this to go in a similar direction to NFR! The first teaser, Let Me Love You Like A Woman (I don't know what it is with this lady and long titles) I enjoy a lot more in the context of the album but as a single, I wasn't too crazy about it. The production was nice but the lyrics felt kind of stale and it felt too much like an NFR leftover for me to enjoy it. Then there was the title track which immediately turned me around and got me excited for the album. Lyrically, production-wise, this song was way more interested than Let Me Love You Like A Woman. There's a moment around the 2:15 mark of the song where the sounds of vinyl crackling come in, really driving home the vintage aesthetic of the album. I also love the buildup of drums, arpeggiated guitar, and Lana's voice at the end. There are also some fantastic lyrics on this song, especially the second verse with Lana singing:

Meet you for coffee at the elementary schools
We laugh about nothing as the summer gets cool
It's beautiful how this deep normality settles down over me
I'm not bored or unhappy, I'm still so strange and wild

But after this, we got radio silence from Lana. She literally didn't speak a word about the album until about a week before it released when she announced then ultimately pushed a video for the opening track, White Dress, back. But nonetheless, I was excited about this album, and I can say that after multiple listens, this is the best follow-up to NFR that I could've asked for. 

Lana in a promotional image for the album.

The opening track for this album that I just mentioned, White Dress, kicks off this album beautifully. I almost want to say this is the best song on the album from the get-go because there's not too much not to like about this song. Lana delivers one of her most interesting vocals performances probably ever. Most of the time it sounds like she wants to hit higher notes but she can't belt them out so she has to whisper them but it sounds fantastic. The lyrics show her looking back on her life before all of this fame, wish she could go back to when she was just a "waitress wearing a white dress." The chorus on the song shows Lana really hurridly mentioning the "Men In Music Business Conference" which almost comes off as her mocking it, trying to make it sound super pretentious. There are also references to Sun Ra, Kings of Leon, and The White Stripes (<3) throughout the song. And the production is just immaculate. None of the sounds during the last chorus fit together but that works to the song's benefit. Tulsa Jesus Freak is a super laid-back, almost Khruangbin-esque pop song. It's super sweet and sultry and Lana's vocal harmonies are really nice. I love the delayed guitars that are placed all throughout the song, it adds a super nice vibe to the song. Lana sings about her and a lover being "white-hot forever," which, according to Genius, references white heat, which means something is so hot that it emits white light. 

Wild at Heart is an interesting song that shows Lana and Jack sampling... themselves? The instrumental on the chorus is ripped straight from How to disappear from NFR and while I should be complaining, it works out well. The chorus is honestly the brightest part of this song. Lana's great spotlit vocals pair super well with the piano and acoustic guitar chords playing in the background. There's also some horns and electric guitar plucking buried in the mix while Lana sings about how escaping the California wildfires made her this way and she even references the assassination of Princess Diana which, I mean, sure, okay. Dark But Just A Game is actually a pretty dark song about people who reach a certain level of fame then go off the deep end until they either ruin their career, life, or both. Lana sings about how "the best ones lost their minds" and at one point compares herself to a vine with no roses left on it, pretty much saying she's gonna stick around even when no one sees the beauty in her. There's also a line in the second verse where Lana sings, "I was a pretty little thing and God, I loved to sing / But nothing came from either one but pain." I also really like the sort of twist at the end where she doesn't finish the last line, just sort of leaving the ending of the song up in the air. 

Not All Who Wander Are Lost is the most stripped-back song on this album with the only instrument leading the song being an acoustic guitar. There are also some nice, plucky, octave guitars that pop up close to the end. Lana sings on the song about life on the road, mentioning a layover in Lincoln, Nebraska where she wore the same clothes for three days. She also drops a line about how the problem with touring is that it leaves her with too much time to think. The falsetto that Lana pulls out in the chorus is beautiful and later in the song when all the harmonies rush it, it just gets even better. The song Yosemite, which unfortunately isn't a Travis Scott cover, is a song about how while seasons change, relationships can too. For the second time on the album, Lana mentions that she isn't a candle in the wind anymore. I personally think this is the weakest song here, besides a solid vocal performance, the lyrics aren't too exciting and the instrumental is a bit too understated to leave an impact on me. 

A still from the Chemtrails Over The Country Club music video. 

The album bows out on a strong note. Breaking Up Slowly shows Lana and uncredited guest Nikki Lane singing about the legendary Tammy Wynette who lived a very tragic and wild life. Lana and Nikki's duet in the chorus is fantastic and while it is one of the shorter songs on here, it still very much leaves its mark. It almost feels like a "tear in your beer" country song at times. Dance Until We Die has some fantastic instrumentation all throughout with some great horn and string sections making use of both channels. The first verse shows Lana name dropping quite a few prominent women in this business singing:

I'm coverin' Joni and I'm dancin' with Joan
Stevie is callin' on the telephone
Court almost burned down my home
But God, it feels good not to be alone

Giving shoutout outs to Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Stevie Nicks, and Courtney Love. I also need to mention the bridge on this song is fantastic. It's some of Lana's most compelling singing on the entire album. There are some muted guitars, super-bright drums, and what sounds like a saxophone losing its mind during it but it all meshes together super well. It's such a lush and beautifully produced song. The album ends with For Free featuring Zella Day and Weyes Blood and I'm gonna be honest, letting Weyes Blood have the final word on this album might have been a mistake because her small contribution to the song blows both Lana and Day out of the water. The song is a Joni Mitchell cover and I think Lana and Jack played it a little too safe here, I think this sounds like a neutered version of the original. But nonetheless, the camaraderie in the song is strong and you can tell that they all enjoyed being together for this song. The lyrics tell the story of a woman who leaves a hotel she spent the night at and goes for a walk through town. Along her way she comes across a man busking, playing the clarinet. This makes the lady realizes how lucky she is to have her career and how she's almost taking it for granted. Thematically, it's a great closer as it really drives home a lot of themes on the album about being uncomfortable in this position of fame, and man, it just makes me really excited for the next Weyes Blood album. 

So look, I wanted to try and avoid it, but since this album is so similar, I can't help but hold this up next to NFR and compare the two. Both albums are great in their own right, but in my opinion, NFR had some much higher highs and even its weakest moments are better than some of this album's more mediocre. But, at the end of it all, it's another solid serving from Lana in this style. And while I do enjoy it, I do fear that at some point, Lana is gonna keep going down this road and the well of bold ideas in this vein will dry up but considering we already have another Lana album due in June, I guess it's sort of inevitable. If we see Jack Antonoff on production again, we'll know for sure. Overall, do I think this is better than NFR? No, but it's still a very strong project and I guess I'll see you guys for another Lana review in June. 

I would rate
Chemtrails Over The Country Club
by Lana Del Rey


Streaming links for Spotify and Apple Music are below. If you're in the market for a CD, Vinyl, or Cassette of the album, those can be found here at Lana's webstore. Alternatively, Target has an exclusive red vinyl with an alternate cover or you can stop by your local record store to pick up an Indie Record Store Exclusive yellow vinyl. (that's just the tip of the variant iceberg.)

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