Lana Del Rey’s latest album Chemtrails Over The Country Club will please longtime fans but feel lackluster for everyone else.
The album has all the right ingredients for a trademark bombshell-hit with Del Rey’s deep serenade, evocative lyrical writing and tongue-in-cheek references. Yet, Chemtrails stops short of the sharp and powerful sociopolitical commentary of its predecessor, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, and the emotional introspection feels underwhelming after Lana Del Rey’s recent gut-punch in her spoken word poetry release, Violets Bending Over Backwards. What’s left is an album that’s good but not exciting.
The title itself perhaps dooms the album to mediocrity — “Chemtrails” recalls the popular conspiracy theory that argues the visible lines of condensation an aircraft expels in the sky are actually filled with chemicals intended to harm the public. In a time when the truth is constantly under attack from wolf-cries of “fake news” and the recent rise of QAnon, Chemtrails Over The Country Club sets the stage for yet another pointed evaluation of American culture. The album title manages to capture the extremes of American life — from the wild conspiracy theories of “Q” to the idyllic mundanity of suburban life and class privilege — yet fails to build upon it. The “wrapping paper” of the album is in some respects far more thrilling than the contents of the package itself.
Instead, Del Rey focuses on the trials and tribulations of fame. The song “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” celebrates the freedom of daily life, capturing that familiar, obligation-free serenity of hot summers in childhood, where the only thing to do was wait for time to pass. Notably, the official music video features Del Rey’s infamous bedazzled mask, which is where we last saw Del Rey on the pages of The Michigan Daily.
“Dark But Just a Game” explores the hefty price of stardom, describing artists as chameleons who are forced to change until they eventually lose themselves — Del Rey vows to stay the same, to preserve herself. “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” strikes at the heart of the album’s core theme: It’s all about perspective. Where fame may seem a blessing, it is also a burden; when one may appear lost, perhaps it’s merely “wanderlust.” Beneath the dramatics of chemtrails and conspiracies, maybe there lies a hidden blessing in celebrating the boring, the normal, the straight-and-narrow condensation trails.
As a storyteller and songwriter, Del Rey excels as always. A mediocre album for a powerhouse like Del Rey is a far better album than another’s best work. Yet, while Chemtrails Over The Country Club offers a handful of tracks that build some engaging commentary, it lacks the drive of Del Rey’s previous works. Del Rey may have set the bar too high for herself — a feat which speaks only to her talent and celebrated career thus far.
What holds the album back is the lack of stylistic experimentation or any fresh, noteworthy material. Chemtrails is a shoo-in Lana Del Rey album — a blessing and a curse. Those who love Del Rey will continue to love her, but anyone still not convinced will find little here to sway them.
That being said, Chemtrails Over The Country Club features several guest artists, and these tracks end up being the saving grace of the album. “Breaking Up Slowly” features the country flair of Nikki Lane, making for a beautiful duet that outshines the rest of the album, including Del Rey herself. “For Free,” a Joni Mitchell cover, sees Del Rey, American singer-songwriter Weyes Blood and hypnotic pop-singer Zella Day each taking a verse in Mitchell’s short introspection of the arbitrary nature of stardom. As with Nikki Lane, Blood and Day subtly steal the spotlight of the song, and the album as a whole. Del Rey’s solo track “Dance Until We Die” deserves an honorable mention just for the bridge, which brings a welcome surprise in its burst of energy of guitar, horn and drums.
A surprising high-point of the album is “Tulsa Jesus Freak” — for three minutes and 35 seconds, Lana Del Rey mispronounces “Arkansas” as “R-Kansas.” Playing with pronunciations of words has long been a favorite tool of musicians everywhere — drop a letter here, stretch a vowel there to make the lyrics accommodate the song’s composition. The track itself pokes some fun at religious piety, depicting a non-traditional kind of worship featuring gin and sex — add on the fact that Tulsa is located in Oklahoma, not Arkansas, and the song shapes up to be a satirical take on an American stereotype, the devout from down South. Whatever the origins of the “Arkansas” pronunciation may be, it makes for a welcome touch of humor amid Del Rey’s usual heavy singing and introspective songwriting.
Chemtrails Over The Country Club will be celebrated by the die-hard fans, shunned by the new and lamented by long-time followers who itch for something fresh. Yet, the album’s missteps speak to Del Rey’s excellent track record — when every new album becomes the “best” album, the hoop gets harder and harder to jump through. Listen to Chemtrails Over The Country Club this week to enjoy the artistic collaborations, and learn how not to pronounce “Arkansas.”
Daily Arts Writer Madeleine Virginia Gannon can be reached at email@example.com.