Lana Del Rey returns to the familiar in latest album

Matt Campbell

Lana Del Rey’s music has presented itself in a carefully cultivated aesthetic that has worked for the better part of a decade. Her 2012 debut “Born to Die” saw a young and ambitious Del Rey (born Elizabeth Grant) presenting an album that was sultry and difficult to ignore that seemed straight out of a 1960s domestic fantasy with a dry martini in hand.

Her passionate and often intense sound soon became her trademark as she moved into her sophomore album “Ultraviolence” and follow-up “Honeymoon.” Her signature brand of seamlessly blended jazz, ballad and pop music became her calling card. Her influence allowed her to collaborate with artists such as The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky on her pop-influenced fourth album, “Lust for Life.”

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Now on her fifth studio album, Del Rey presents a record that traces back to the sound that has proven to define her by playing it safe with vocal and instrumental experimentation. Despite seeming to be the logical next step in her career, “Norman f*cking Rockwell” is a sweet and slow record that finds itself crumbling under the fact that really, it’s just another  Del Rey album.

If Del Rey has always been your thing, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll really like this record. Overall, Del Rey isn’t doing anything totally out of the question or unexpected on this album. “Norman f*cking Rockwell” opens with its title track, a slow piano ballad that is an intimate song to all of the men that have served temporary satisfaction to the singer-songwriter. This song gives way to the folk inspired three chord “Mariners Apartment Complex” that drives as though both feet are on the gas and brakes, building up to a chorus that is reminiscent of Illinois-era Sufjan Stevens.

“Venice Bitch,” clocking in at a triumphant nine minutes and 37 seconds, is a sine wave of a song that fluctuates between dramatic choruses, subdued verses and compelling synthesized instrumental breaks, all under softly finger-picked classical guitar serving as the song’s foundation.

“Norman f*cking Rockwell” can be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music.

Perhaps the highlight of the album is Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time.” This song is a decidedly faithful cover that compliments the original very well with its pop-inflected instrumentals and its close embrace of “Born to Die” era Del Rey. Del Rey’s sultry voice is fitting for the arrangement and subject matter; an apathetic partner who knows their significant other is “spreading (their) love.”

“How to Disappear” is a slow yet driving waltz that flows into “California,” a song that adheres more to the traditional Del Rey aesthetic. “Happiness is a Butterfly” is another slow and intimate ballad that allows Del Rey’s world-weary lyrics to shine over piano and swelling violins.

“Norman f*cking Rockwell” ends on “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it,” a near a capella closer whose instrumental arrangements give way to Del Rey’s triumphant and personal vocal delivery.

With exception to the lyrical content of the album, “Norman f*cking Rockwell” is almost exactly what you’d expect from a Del Rey album. The instrumentation is dramatic, while the vocal delivery is cavernous and compliments the structure of the songs very well. The issue with Del Rey’s sound is the apathetic vocal delivery that has now become an archetype for her music.

At the beginning of her career, Del Rey’s sound cut through mainstream radio and straight to the Crosley turntable of nearly every high school aged girl who desperately longed for some pop music that was maybe a little darker.

As her career has advanced, Del Rey has abandoned the most blatant aspects of that aesthetic yet still peppers in aspects of this weird aesthetic that now, in a state of advanced maturity and executed in different contexts, is mistaken as profound songwriting.

Del Rey will surely be called one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Her signature brand of sugar baby pop has had a profound impact on many of the artists dominating the pop charts today, and her sound is as nostalgic as it is novel. Nevertheless, “Norman f*cking Rockwell” is a shining example of an artist sitting comfortably within their established sound. 

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Rating: 5.5/10

Best tracks: “Mariners Apartment Complex,” “Doin’ Time”

Worst tracks: “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it,” “Love Song” 

Matt Campbell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @mcampnh.