Lana Del Rey is baroque pop singer/songwriter from New York City. She debuted in 2010 with a self-titled LP which largely flew under the radar, but her 2012 follow up, Born to Die scored a platinum certification thanks to her signing with Interscope Records for the release. Since then, she hasn’t quite recaptured the success of her sophomore record, though her last three releases are certified gold and two have peaked at number one on the Billboard charts. She’s also landed a handful of massive performances like a slot at Coachella in 2014 and the Flow Festival in 2017, not to mention several successful tours. I must admit that I’ve never been a massive fan of Del Ray as I’ve always found her music to be a bit more aesthetic over quality. Unfortunately, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Is yet another example of this.
It’s not all bad! There are a few elements that I enjoy, and a key one is certainly the swelling strings which adorn the majority of the album. Particularly on the front end, tracks like the opening title track and “Mariners Apartment Complex,” feature orchestrated violins which bring a real sense of weight to songs which, otherwise, may fall flat.
In addition, there are a few enjoyable melodies to be found, especially near the end. Cuts like “Happiness is a Butterfly,” and the atrociously titled closer, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have – and I Have It,” have nice, ear-worm choruses that definitely linger in the mind long after the first listen. Without a doubt, the album could do with several more of these catchy choruses.
Easily the highlight of the LP is the genuinely great production from Jack Antonoff. The Bleachers frontman has recently made quite a name for himself in the world of production, and this project is no exception! A quick listen to cuts like “How to Disappear,” and “California,” gives a great taste of Antonoff’s care-free style. While there are a few nitpicks in terms of technical missteps, he makes up for this with a very natural mix which catches a lot of the small imperfections that make the instrumentals sound very natural.
Regrettably, none of this can save the album from the litany of issues which plague nearly every track. Perhaps the first downfall that a casual listener might notice is Lana Del Rey’s positively terrible vocal performance. Some of the worst examples come on “Love Song,” and “The Next Best American Record,” but on track after track, Del Rey acts as nothing but a wet blanket to the genuinely interesting instrumentals beneath her thanks to weak falsettos and a lack of any impressive power or range in her overall low energy vocal.
Beyond this, the lyricism leaves quite a bit to be desired as well. Songs like “Fuck It, I Love You,” and “Cinnamon Girl,” are filled with some of the most cliche and least interesting lyrics I’ve heard in a very long time. Her writing mostly consists of references to other, better songs and appeals to aesthetic which lack any real emotional weight. It’s a kind of faux depth which just doesn’t stand up to any thoughtful listen, but also keeps the record from being just mindless fun.
Worst of all, the album commits the cardinal sin: it’s boring. This is apparent on every single cut as they seem to build without ever reaching any climax or even mildly exciting moment. It’s painfully noticeable on her cover of the Sublime classic, “Doin’ Time,” as the spacey instrumental and Lana’s unenthused performance zap all the energy out of the iconic track. Perhaps the worst offender, however, is “Venice Bitch,” which, for reasons that I cannot fathom, runs for an entire nine minutes with only enough material to fill about three. The rest of the track is just middling, directionless strings and a repetitive chorus.
All in all, Norman Fucking Rockwell! Feels like a disappointment. As I said, I’ve never been a Lana Del Rey fan myself, and so this may be exactly what fans were hoping for. But, for my money, there are several artists working today to execute this sound far better while eschewing the faux-vintage aesthetic which drips from every second of the LP.
Norman Fucking Rockwell! Has a handful of pleasant elements, but ultimately it is poorly written, poorly performed, and just plain boring.