“Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Lana Del Rey cover

It seems as if Lana Del Rey has been hinting at this album for the past decade. The release of her ‘17 LP, “Lust for Life,” called for a case of an artistry quandary, someone whose career has long been California's sadcore doll, a now tarnished reputation, for so long that now she has nowhere to fall back on. From the trap productions that bordered on triteness (“Summer Bummer” and “Groupie Love”) to the folksy duet with Stevie Nicks overpowering Rey’s own stature (“Beautiful People Beautiful Problems”), there was almost a division on “Lust for Life,” with Rey being the only adhesive mending the faint line of consistency and cohesion. Yet even that was not enough: she had her string of issues lining up from the start of “Love.” Rey was never the strongest vocalist, relying on processors to muffle out both her husky and fragile registers. It caused a desire for emotions, empathy and a quality more than just being lost in love and in love with a sentiment of America. 

So when Rey announced last year that she was collaborating with Bleachers’ Jack Antonoff, no one knew what the outcome would yield. That was around the time when “Mariners Apartment Complex” was released, and since then, the steps Rey would take would be the most crucial in order to create her perfect moment. The first single to the now “Norman F*cking Rockwell” departed ways with the baroque and chamber pop formers and reverted to singer/songwriter ethos. It was a shock that her voice was clarified and as poignant as ever over minimalist piano and acoustic guitar schemes. Here, at this very glance, she perfected mood and imagery. Frustrated, yet compassionate and confident, Rey finds herself at the threshold of two worlds: the one where she is the center of the galaxy (“You lose your way, just take my hand”) and the other one where she is slowly building up to that.

This epiphany of clever craftsmanship takes a hold in “Venice B*tch.” A daunting nine-minutes-and-thirty-seven-seconds gouges into a pure aural trance once the three-minute mark passes. At that point, Rey’s vocals are merely melodies floating through a sea of psychedelic and gauzy instrumentation. Continuing off “Mariners,” she follows this new blueprint: tone down the processors, heighten the pathos. Hints of sexual misconduct are beckoned (“Oh god, miss you on my lips”/”Callin’ out bang bang, kiss kiss”), yet Rey speaks of a nostalgic gaze of being near her lover. Her intimacy is felt through whatever medium you choose to hear her from, especially when she christens herself, “Your little Venice b*tch.” She breathes life into the track, never leaving the scene. She is the focal point, and the organic instruments never bore her voice. “Venice B*tch” can be shortened, but part of the reason why longevity should never be the issue in this case is because of how Rey manages to stay within the limelight, how her sentiments from “Mariners” dwell onto this new settlement. 

2018 ended, and the New York songstress continued to tease songs for a rumored project. “Hope is a…” channeled Rey’s innermost confessional Sylvia Plath over a somber piano arrangement, while a rendition of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” re-introduced a former trip-hop circulation that recalls her previous discography, “Born to Die”and “Lust for Life.” The acclaim for Rey’s recent work was some of the best she has ever garnered. Pitchfork Media casted “Venice B*tch” as its Best New Track, Sublime’s own Bud Gaugh lauded “Doin’ Time” for “breath[ing] new life into one of [their] favorite singles” and her collaboration with Jack Antonoff has brought out some of the greatest artistry in each other. “Norman F*cking Rockwell” was announced, and leading up to the premier week, “The greatest” and “F*ck it I Love You” were shared as a double promotion. Both singles furthered the anticipation for her sixth album, having media publications showing their excitement for what it will yield. 

“Norman F*cking Rockwell” is a new grasp of realism in Rey’s world, which was once accommodated with Americana nods and glorious Californian references. The motif: perseverance in a state of personal and universal chaos. She takes this idea and centralizes it at best through a series of meditations. On “How to Disappear,” Rey sings of past flames and their issues over a tender set of strings and soft guitar strums. Despite their concerns, she reminds them: “I'm always going to be right here/No one's going anywhere.” The same strength is heard on “Mariners,” probably the quintessential track in the LP, when she murmurs, “I’m your man” to her lover. The line does not read like the feminist propaganda it could have been; Rey uses compassion as her weaponry. It is an act of love that makes the song what it is, like in “California” when takes with supporting role, “You don't ever have to be stronger than you really are/When you're lying in my arms, baby.”

Juxtaposition is at the heart of the California dreamer’s penmanship. The titular track is a mix of humor and melancholy, from lines such as “Goddamn, man-child/You f*cked me so good that I almost said "I love you" to the defeatist attitude of “'Cause you're just a man/It's just what you do.” “The Greatest” utilizes this in arrangements, using the vintage, dreamy guitars and strings to counter the allusions in the text: Hawai’i had an accidental nuclear alert, Earth is set on a ten-year time limit, mental health is understated and more. “Happiness is a Butterfly” uses the signature gloomy diction and tone, but the chorus refutes this and uses words like “lullaby” and “babies” to surface a childlike hopefulness. 

The rhetoric ends with closer “Hope is a…,” where Rey’s vocals are more earnest and the keys are stoic. In the chorus, she tells us she is not happy, but at least she is not sad. In the outro, she repeats the title and echoes it off until the rolling credits. Taken from the ‘94 “The Shawshank Redemption,” the quote refers to how the feeling leans to serendipity that may never transpite. She reminds that perseverance is also a tribulation, how even for her, while she conveys a strong character on her sixth installment, she is exhausted of yearning and trying. It is tracks like these that bring out the relatability in Rey. While she resides in this musical landscape she has been creating for the past decade, she now has the capability to draw listeners into it. This is our world we live in now, and she managed to make hers in some ways a true parallel while it also remaining a fantasy.