It often feels as though Lana Del Rey lives in two different worlds. In her music, she’s “the poet laureate of a world on fire.” But in the harsh light of real life she can be, as Street’s Kyle Whiting puts it, “a bumbling fool.” Take an excerpt from her interview with Annie Mac earlier this year: “It’s like, we don’t know how to find the ways to be wild in our world … and at the same time, the world is so wild.” In reference to the seditionists who stormed the Capitol, this remark dangerously minimized the fact that the riots were foremost a hateful and violent demonstration of white supremacy.
A similar sentiment crops up on “Wild At Heart,” midway through the tracklist of Del Rey’s seventh studio album Chemtrails Over the Country Club. But when she sings, “If you love me, you’ll love me / 'Cause I’m wild, wild at heart,” the sentiment is elevated from lower back tattoo fodder to dissociative poetry. Musically, her new album is a study in blurred boundaries, rather than being concrete or self–contained. This benefits songs like “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” which felt slight as a single, but spreads its ominous overcast across the entire record.
“Wild At Heart” stitches together two melodies that feel pulled straight from the annals of Norman Fucking Rockwell!. While some may gripe with this record’s similarities to Del Rey’s end–of–the–decade masterpiece, they disregard that her focus has always been on developing a single and singular aesthetic. On “Dark But Just A Game,” she explains, “We keep changing all the time / The best ones lost their minds / So I’m not gonna change / I’ll stay the same.” Lana Del Rey is one of the few celebrity musicians who consistently doubles down on her artistic choices and political stances alike, regardless of public response.
The most compelling moments on the album come when Del Rey and frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff choose to move outside their comfort zone. “Tulsa Jesus Freak” and “Dark But Just A Game” both build on the shuffling rhythms of trip–hop, and the latter is a prime example of how the album employs texture. Antonoff composes with a perfumer’s ear, creating an ever–shifting, smog–shrouded stage out of base notes and top notes. He also showcases his jazz–influenced improvisational playing on the guitar, recalling country–adjacent virtuosos like the legendary Les Paul.
Lana Del Rey works harder than ever on Chemtrails to incorporate the sounds of Americana into her music. At times, she produces engaging apocrypha; the scintillating bluegrass harmonies that close out “Wild At Heart” and “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” which cribs a chord progression from “Look At Miss Ohio,” are some of the record’s highest highs. The hymnlike “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” also recalls selections from the Great American Songbook. That track successfully distills and bottles the wistfulness of a road trip. Other gestures at country music are less credible, like the jarring inclusion of country singer Nikki Lane on album low point “Breaking Up Slowly,” which includes the lyric, “I don’t want to end up like Tammy Wynette.” Del Rey cited her as an influence during the record’s press cycle, but that inspiration is sadly lacking in all but name.
On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey focused her wide–eyed gaze on 'the culture' at large, but Chemtrails Over the Country Club turns inwards. The album’s opening track, “White Dress,” has immediately become a new highlight in her oeuvre. Part of this can be attributed to its engrossing vocal timbre: a strained and haunting falsetto, something unexpected for an artist often typified as lackadaisical or disaffected. Perhaps this has to do with Del Rey’s lingering frustration toward the asinine critiques that labeled her music as inauthentic and retrofetishistic.
The lyrics on “White Dress” are peppered with such specificity, like the “Men in Music Business Conference,” that they infuse the entire song with irrefutable sincerity. The American dream has long been Lana Del Rey’s provenance, but here she manages to intertwine it with her own self–mythologization. She reflects on her years working as “a waitress wearing a tight dress,” but with the caveat that “It kinda makes me feel, like maybe I was better off.” Chemtrails Over the Country Club has almost none of its predecessor’s obligation to the present moment; even the album cover is a snapshot of a bygone era.
Beginning with “Yosemite,” Chemtrails Over the Country Step enters a spotty run. This is in tandem with Del Rey’s attempt to harness the musical legacy of other female singers, rather than focusing on herself. The record’s last third includes the aforementioned “Breaking Up Slowly,” as well as “For Free,” which elucidates that Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering is a much more capable Joni Mitchell impressionist than Del Rey herself.
“Dance Till We Die” also opens with a full litany of influences. However, the song is rescued by one of the album’s best instrumentals, which ebbs and flows like the Pacific Ocean. That is, until the haze parts and reveals what sounds like a rollicking pastiche of Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.” This moment is thrilling less because of its execution, and more because of how foreign it sounds compared to anything Del Rey has ever released. Chemtrails Over the Country Club showcases the panoply of ideas remaining to power the albums that will follow in its wake. For better or worse, Lana Del Rey won’t be going away any time soon; she still has plenty to say.