Friday, March 26, 2021

Chemtrails Over The Country Club - A pop of colour in an other wise bleak month

When Born to Die came out, I had the album on repeat for months. With my headphones in and the volume turned up high, Lana Del Rey's smoky voice blanketed my morning commute from London's suburbs into the city. I couldn't get enough. It was the first album in my adulthood that felt like mine and mine alone. I still get a thrill seven years later when I hear her voice, but does Chemtrails Over The County Club hit the same?

COVID may have halted production, driving the initial album release date into the new year. Still, Chemtrails Over The Country Club is finally here and not without some initial controversy over this seventh studio album. 

Whilst it had barely surfaced, the album was faced with a barricade of controversy over the cover art, sparking a diversity debate when it was revealed. Del Rey defended the cover, stating: "Yes there are people of color on this records picture and that's all I'll say about that", and so she did. As time moved closer to the release of this hotly anticipated album, criticisms largely dissipated; talk soon shifted. 

With two singles released late last year providing us with a taste of what was to come, it was no surprise that the first single, "Chemtrails Over The Country Club", sounded almost exactly as one would anticipate. Not a bad thing for sure, but it's that sense of nostalgia, a word synonymous with Del Rey, that made me wonder whether the whole album would continue to thrive on nostalgia and nostalgia alone. 

Come March, and the album is here. Piano opens "White Dress"– the first song of the album. It's softer melodically than I would have expected. That continues throughout and at just over 45 minutes of that soulful, haunting voice spanning over 11 tracks, this album feels stripped back, raw and original.

I listen to the album in one sitting. I am immediately captivated, albeit a little caught off guard by how much softer each song is. "Chemtrails Over The Country Club" comes next, and though I've heard it before, I want to listen to it set inside this album. This song transports me straight back to her previous work driven by that snappy pace that many have come to expect. The music video reinstates the element of nostalgia with a stylised vintage feel, directed by film production duo BRTHR, known for Selena Gomez's "Rare", Charli XCX's "Breaking Up" and The Weeknd's "Party Monster". 

Continuing on, "Tulsa Jesus Freak" sets me back into this album. There's something so subtle about her voice – almost a whisper. It reminds me of "Video Games", but now that's me overthinking the nostalgic element. 

"Let Me Love You Like A Woman" follows and it's far less raw. I soon discover that vocal processors have been at play. Still, everything is purposeful and there's something in this sudden rise and fall of tone which leaves you with a disconcerting feeling that's somehow comforting. It's a nod to hip-hop, maybe pop, maybe both. 

"Wild At Heart" continues with acoustic guitar and a melody that matches "How To Disappear". I want to draw tentative links to David Lynch's Wild At Heart (1980) featuring Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage, a thought which may be fuelled by the film's high octane Californian backdrop, and this song's Sunset Boulevard mention and road movie-esque soundtrack. Perhaps it's this combination of elements and tentative links that makes Lana Del Rey so captivating?

"Dark But Just A Game" and "Not All Who Wander Are Lost" have that same stripped back feel the album started with, whilst folk-like elements play into the tracks. These are followed by "Yosemite" which picks up ever so-lightly. One thing which really ties everything together beyond her voice is the element of storytelling, as she refers back to previous characters she's drawn upon throughout her music. The narrative at play can be seen as an overarching element to her entire musical career, her identity, and of course, her own story.  

There's a pull to her voice in "Breaking Up Slowly", which takes me right back to when I first heard No Doubt's "Don't Speak" circa 1995, but it remains far more subtle than this. The lyrics shift between being sung by Lana Del Rey and Nikki Lane – the country singer whom Del Rey performed with in a surprise duet mid-October 2020 in a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas. Playing back into a narrative, the song makes reference to Lane's third husband, George Jones: "George got arrested out on the lawn / We might be breaking up after the song."  

The penultimate song, "Dance Till We Die" starts: "I'm covering Joni [Mitchell] and I'm dancing with Joan [Baez]/Stevie's [Nicks] calling on the telephone" just before the album ends with "For Free", a cover of Joni Mitchell's 1970's song. 

Just as expected, this album has Lana Del Rey's identity plastered all over. With the aid of her producer Jack Antonoff, this dreamlike album has taken Del Rey right to the top of her game, sparking an intrigue over what the future may hold. But expecting another album anytime soon is probably an overambitious desire.   

-Marianna Michael 


Image: Lana Del Rey Chemtrails Over The Country Club Official Album Cover PRESS

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