Norman Fucking Rockwell! – Lana Del Rey

LANA

Norman Rockwell.

An artist who was, in his lifetime, dismissed by “serious” critics.

His willingness to produce work for the mass market, including for the likes of Coca-Cola saw him treated with a barely concealed contempt by the people who matter…or who like to tell others how much they matter.

Kenneth Williams once shared a story about critics during a television interview, quoting from someone else who said;

“They are like eunuchs in the Harem, they are there every night, they see it done every night…but they can’t do it themselves”

So we come to the fifth album from Lana Del Rey.

“Norman Fucking Rockwell!”

Del Rey is an artist.

She has produced work that has mass appeal.

She has, like Rockwell, been subjected to a less than favourable, sometimes openly hostile, press reaction to her work.

Also, like Rockwell, she is having the last laugh.

Anyone with even a passing interest in popular music knows that Del Rey is a writer of wonderful lyrics, a producer of intoxicating melody and that rarest of beasts a pop star who is more star than pop.

This is a deeply layered, and textured, collection of songs…at times there is so much happening at once that it can be almost impossible to take it all in.  It is gorgeous, with strings, electronic squelches and squidges, gently strumming guitars and, at all times, that hazy, dreamy, shimmering voice.

There are moments when this record veers towards the sinister world of progressive rock, most notably “Venice Bitch” which runs for nearly ten minutes but, unlike the prog rockers, this isn’t an effort to bore an audience into submission and nor is it music designed for chin stroking.  Instead this is epic, emotionally bruising, spiritually healing, music as therapy.  Lyrically it is like a stream of consciousness…closer to Elizabeth Smart’s “By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept” than it is to anything in the popular music canon.

That isn’t the only moment where Del Rey seems closer to poetry and prose than pop lyricist and it is her ability to write with such flourish, so openly, so honestly and so beautifully that sets her apart from any of her peers.  She is certainly operating in an entirely different realm to the likes of Noel Gallagher or any of the other rock ‘n’ roll crowd.

Take the opening lines of “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like me to Have”;

I was reading Slim Aarons and I got to thinking that I thought
Maybe I’d get less stressed if I was tested less like
All of these debutantes
Smiling for miles in pink dresses and high heels on white yachts
But I’m not, baby, I’m not
No, I’m not, that, I’m not

Boys in bucket hats and with traces of coke around their nostrils will sneer at someone like Del Rey…barely able to hide their contempt for a woman in music, desperately trying to convince anyone who will listen that their distaste is anything, everything, other than misogyny.

“I just don’t like it mate” they will bleat in response to the suggestion that they are motivated by sexism and then they will point to the fact that some of their best friends are women.

I am unconvinced.

I am also disinterested in the views of anyone who thinks that exciting new music means bands making more music that sounds exactly like the music they already enjoy.

It’s not.

Del Rey is more interesting, intriguing and intelligent than any of the dozens of boys with guitars and Liam haircuts you are currently trying to convince yourselves are the future of “rock and roll”.

They are not.

The future sounds like Del Rey who has one foot in the past but both eyes firmly fixed on tomorrow.