OK, let’s set the record straight from the start shall we? I am not one could call a huge fan of Lana Del Rey. Now, I must hasten to point out that this is not to say that I passionately hate her discography or the lady herself.. In fact, ‘Born To Die‘ is among my favourite albums of all time and whenever I’ve seen Miss. Del Rey interviewed, she seems to genuine and sincere both in her music and in personality (two traits that always cheers me up to discover about creators and performers that I like). Then to top it all off, I have absolute adoration for her cover of ‘Chelsea Hotel‘ with Adam Cohen, performed live at the ‘Tower Of Song‘ tribute concert to the late great Leonard Cohen, an artist I really am infatuated with, is a version I actually feel better than it’s original counterpart. Now THAT takes some doing!
When it comes down to it, I’d say my main complaint is that every time a new album is announced, I build myself up, hoping that this will be the one that will blow me away like that first listen of the aforementioned ‘Born To Die’, which again I will reinforce is, in my opinion, an absolutely essential album for every self-respecting music lover to hear. Perhaps this will be more than just a series of often cliche ridden songs about broken love that drown in a sea of artificial grandeur and an almost hysterical build of hype. Could this be the album that will see Lana move away from just another set of songs that so often seem to tread familiar waters, leaving little more than a tepid memory upon the ears?
Well, once again a new album was announced and I got myself all excited. Everyone around me heard it and insisted that it was album of the year level material, essential listening and possibly the greatest thing since the humble sliced loaf. Once again, the hype was very real and very much overdone. So, late one evening I sat down to listen to ‘Norman F*****g Rockwell‘ from start to finish, having been told it was an album I had to listen to in the peace of the night in order to truly appreciate. So sit and listen I did, headphones on, all other distractions to one side (my favourite way to listen to music). After hearing all fourteen tracks a couple of times (and one or two tracks a couple of times more), I let out a big old sigh. It would appear that what I had witnessed was nothing that was really going to get me going, both positively or negatively. It was just ok. Passable. Nothing particularly special, nor especially bothersome.
Now, I hadn’t gone in expecting radical changes to the expected formula, but often you could drop the needle anywhere on this record and probably have to take a moment to work out exactly where you had landed. It all felt so contrived and going through the artist’s own list of cliches. Songs about what I believe Lady Gaga once referred to as ‘Bad Romance‘? Check one. Enough swearing to make even the most hardened of sailors blush and often feels slightly crammed in for the sake of it? Check two (and anyone who knows me will know just how much swearing there has got to be crammed in, as I am a great fan of a good old fashioned swear and often listen to music that packs in plenty of naughty words you wouldn’t say in front of your dear sweet old Grandmother). Plenty of aesthetically pleasing angst? Check three.
The problem is that when the album is split between beautiful songs and utterly contrived mediocrity. The best example at a not particularly well executed attempt at shaking things up comes in the form of ‘Venice B***h‘ falls flat on it’s face, with what sounds like somebody who has just bought their first synthesizer attempting to play all the notes and make all the weird noises possible to fill huge instrumental gaps, followed by the world’s most disappointing guitar solo that just ends up sounding like unpleasant noise echoing around the place, with the two then coming together for a prolonged session to extend the song way past it’s welcome. There is no need for this, the third track, to be nearly ten minutes in length, especially when it seems to have so little to say. The fact that following number ‘F**k It I Love You‘ sounds like a further extension to it’s predecessor really doesn’t help.
In fact, the moments that really stand out as the album high point are ‘Doin’ Time‘, with it’s groove filled rhythms, followed by ‘Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have, But I Have It‘ and ‘Looking For America‘, both of which strip things back to more familiar territory for our heroine and seems to sit far more comfortably on the years. Now, this is not to say that experimentation into new ideas isn’t welcome and that we should all expect an artist to stick with one sound, but sometimes going back to the basics is a welcome turn of events. ‘Hope Is A Dangerous Thing…’ is also, lyrically, one of Miss. Del Rey’s finest moments. It weaves a fine blend of delicate poetry with a truly haunting and introspective narrative with a melancholy romance that just oozes charm.
So all in all, ‘Norman F*****g Rockwell’ falls slap bang in the middle of the ratings system, as frankly, there is no better way to describe it. A cocktail of perhaps 40% hits and 60% misses. Though it must be said that the hits really do hit hard to create something utterly beautiful.