Lana Del Rey’s music and artistic public image has always been drenched in pop culture and americana. Much of her back catalogue is swimming in references to deeply American elements such as jazz, heavy metal, classic rock and roll legends, golden age poets, and some of our lofty American ideals that have permeated the nation’s subconscious throughout its history. Which is why, as unsurprising as it is for her to continue to utilize these concepts in her latest release, it’s especially invigorating to see how she has redefined these ideas for our current landscape. Popular culture and its role in our day to day life and discourse has evolved, and on NFR, Del Rey is not only addressing that change, but she’s inserting her own vision into it in a way that feels artistically distinct. Jack Antoff and company paint a luscious assortment of strings, keyboards, synths, pianos drums, horns, and guitars for Del Rey to wander through, and the ultimate result of that is absolutely greater than the sum of its parts. She plays around with cultural images like the “promised-land” of California, the trappings of masculinity, teenage pop stars, fleeting romance, and most importantly, the images of cultivate by Norman Rockwell himself to create songscapes that are a melding of all of these ideas in a very cohesive way. Songs like “Venice Bitch”, “Norman f***ing Rockwell”, “Mariners Apartment Complex”, “Bartender”, “Happiness is a Butterfly,” and “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have” is an apotheosis of everything Lana Del Rey has stood for throughout her career. Items like love, doom, satisfaction, despair, independence, compassion, and the American image all brought to life in one record that exemplifies these ideals while maintaining a supremely realistic outlook on the role they play in our current era, making this her greatest endeavor yet.
While del Rey has certainly created her opus with NFR, it does however fall victim on occasion to the pitfalls that have plagued her since her emergence as an artist. A few songs linger on a bit too long without really feeling like they’re getting anywhere, and her melancholic approach to her lyrics, while at their best are incredibly illuminating, at their worst can feel very, very drab and uninspired. However, she really has surmounted these fallings for the majority of the record, and they don’t do too much to pull it down from the heights it achieves.
Pending the release of NFR, it would have been incredibly easy for Lana Del Rey to put out something that played to her same old aesthetics in the same old straightforward way and do nothing with them. She would have created a record that would have certainly pleased her core fanbase, and probably would have produced a couple successful singles in the process. Instead, she decided to take her pre existing artistic vision and turn it in on the culture she’s been so long fascinated with, commenting on its past and present while still allowing it to feel personal, making it her strongest artistic statement to date. 4/5