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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Album / Video Of The Week, Nov. 24

Album of the week: Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

Guess what, I finally listened to a Lana Del Rey album from start to finish... really, the things some people will stoop to in order to give this millennium a fair chance. Anyway, from what I can tell by comparing it with her earlier songs that I heard, the main differences are that (a) she has gone completely retro this time and (b) she finally dropped some of the most annoying mannerisms she had to her singing style (like that awful artificial lisp, for instance). Now all of us boomers and Gen X-ers are officially free to cream all over this Laurel Canyon-style material.

Honestly, I could be as happy as anybody to spend my days counting all the endless references to old school artists and realities that she makes in these songs, but it would help at least a little bit if they were good songs. They aren't. This watery, atmospherically monotonous piano balladry, all of it based on chords that people had flogged to death at least 40 years ago, puts her at best on the level of somebody like Carly Simon, if we use the era celebrated on this album as a base reference (and even then, Lana still has a long way to go to get her own 'You're So Vain'). I do believe everybody understands that, more or less, and when discussing the record people quickly move on to the lyrics as her strongest selling point - but when the thing that most vividly jumps into view, before everything else, is the amount of times she says "fuck" (and just about every song on here makes at least one reference to fucking), the cleverness of the lyrics in general is somewhat overshadowed by the mock-shock factor. Maybe it is somewhat original to sing "fuck it, I love you" in the sweetest falsetto, but "fuck it" and falsetto go together about as fine as dog shit with Dom Perignon - and that is not being condescending to dog shit, no sir.

That said, I wasn't really annoyed by the album, even if I may have slept through some bits of it. If anything, she did a really good job trying to convince skeptics like me that she is not just a fake poseur - her admiration for an epoch long gone by is perceived very clearly. But the very fact that she is going back fifty years to try and offer a fresh perspective on the present, and that the results of this experiment are currently lauded as one of 2019's greatest artistic successes, speak for themselves. Imagine the Beatles, in 1967, coming out with a groundbreaking revolutionary effort - Alexander's Fucking Ragtime Band. Of course, plenty of listeners today won't be getting the irony of naming one of your songs 'Cinnamon Girl', or, perhaps, won't even recognize where the line "summertime, and the living is easy" comes from. Or they might be amazed at the stupid synth solo that doubles the length of 'Venice Bitch' in a clear nod to the progressive passages on mid-Seventies' records. But if you do put things in perspective, Norman Fucking Rockwell! emerges as little more than a cute pastiche, ever so slightly verbally modified for the rules and conventions of the 2010s.

Here is the title track, which is fairly diagnostic of the album in general. I don't have anything against its misandry - these things are rightful pay-offs after decades of 'Under My Thumb's - but I do find the melody pathetically weak, sort of a McCartney-Joni Mitchell mash-up that never resolves into anything particularly interesting.

Video of the week: Carole King - Live At Montreux

Since we're on the subject of female singer-songwriters and the "Me decade", why not throw in a bit of promotion for this latest release in the Montreux concert series? There's precious little footage out there of Carole King in her prime, I'd only really seen her recent performances, and so to have about an hour of material from her, singing big hits from Tapestry and performing nearly all the titles from her much underrated and unjustly forgotten Fantasy, is a total delight. Young, shy, sincerely in love with her own music, having fun on stage with a versatile and respectful band - impossible not to like this. Here's 'You've Been Around Too Long' from the show, a little piece that demonstrates the fine jamming power of her backing band and her own more than respectable piano skills (this is certainly not her main selling point, but it's also important to remember that she was much more than just a formal hookmaster).


  1. Commendably generous take on Lana Del Rey (who I hear too much of because of my 10 year-old daughter). But Holy Jesus her lyrics are inane! Don't get me wrong, I'm all for inane, expletive-laced lyrics, but not when they're dripping with such self-importance. Apparently your average self-absorbed middle school text counts as edgy poetry as long as it's credited to an adult.

    Instead of dropping lazy expletives into her wispy-lispy croons, I wish she'd get actually interesting and maybe bring something like Devandra Banhart's "This Beard is for Siobhan" to her juvenile masses. That would be perfect for her vocal style, and just (creatively) inane enough to be a hit.

  2. The reviews for this and the next week hint that probably there was too much going on in the past for the current generations to dig it. Which means that the new bands and artists need just to repackage or facelift some genre or an old classic act. They do it quite professionally, I'll give it to them and eventually the output is much more polished than the original ideas. Also, much more lifeless.

    At the end of the day, I enjoyed Lana's latest album more than the previous effort. I love Lana's voice, and at least on NFR there're no irritating guest appearances and endless "ft." in the song titles. This is a product for sure but quite okayish as far as I'm concerned.

  3. That Lana del Rey song starts almost exactly like a piano ballad I have heard before. I think it's her, the voice seems similar.