Sunday, October 24, 2021

With ‘Blue Banisters’, Lana Del Rey proves why she rightly retains her crown as queen of alternative pop

“I guess you could call it textbook”, sings Lana Del Rey on the opening track of her eighth studio album ‘Blue Banisters.’ It’s a slightly self-effacing acknowledgment of her sometimes-formulaic lyrical content; but ‘Blue Banisters’ avoids being a pastiche of Old Hollywood glamour and dark Americana, instead interpolating different musical styles and plucking lyrical inspiration from the past, the present, and the future.

Initially slated for a June 1st release under the title ‘Rock Candy Sweet’, Lana announced the record on the same day as she dropped the effervescent ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club.’ ‘Blue Banisters’ followed only seven months later.

The title track is a delicate piano ballad, with Lana musing on the idea of channelling her sadness into creativity. This sentiment is explored further throughout the album, particularly on the track ‘Beautiful’. A twinkling piano melody introduces and underscores ‘Beautiful’, but it's Lana’s voice which proves to be her greatest instrument. On the mournful ‘Arcadia’ she gives perhaps her best vocal performance, oscillating between deep sultry vocals on its verses and a higher breathier register on its choruses. The instrumentation is understated, not overproduced, allowing her voice to take centre stage as she sings “My body is a map of LA”, lyrically objectifying herself.

‘Interlude – The Trio’ takes Ennio Morricone’s cinematic score and interpolates it with trip-hop beats last heard on a Del Rey record with 2017’s ‘Lust For Life.’ Meanwhile, ‘If You Lie Down’ utilises a horn section in its outro, demonstrating a more experimental side to the record.

Del Rey’s penchant for inhabiting characters or mythologised versions of herself has proved one of the distinctive marks of her lyricism. However, on ‘Blue Banisters’, Lana’s approach to song-writing begins to offer an insight into the real her, with deeply personal accounts of familial strife, and writing credits attached to her father and sister Chuck on closing track ‘Sweet Carolina’. On the apocalyptic ode ‘Black Bathing Suit’, she sings “If this is the end / I want a boyfriend / Someone to eat ice cream with / And watch television”, revealing a more relatable side to her listeners.

On the elegiac centrepiece ‘Violets For Roses’, post-lockdown observations elicit emotion for Lana: “There’s something in the air / the girls are running round in summer dresses / with their masks off / and it makes me so happy.” Haunting layered vocal harmonies on the chorus emphasise the track’s romanticised imagery.

'Dealer’ is decidedly the album’s most unique track – unlike anything Del Rey has done before. It's a captivating collaboration with British indie music’s lounge lizard Miles Kane (of The Last Shadow Puppets) and enables Del Rey to delve deeper into a variety of genres and styles.

‘Thunder’ is a real highlight, with orchestral undertones, soaring vocal melodies, and a memorable refrain of “Just do it, don’t wait.” Buoyed by optimism and cascading strings, it would perhaps make a more suitable closing track, ending on a euphoric note. The woozy waltz of slow-burning ‘Wildflower Wildfire’ decelerates the album’s pace, with deep swooning vocals before Lana reaches angelic heights once more.

Hymnal ‘Nectar of the Gods’ begins with arresting vocal harmonies before the subtle folk-tinged plucks of an acoustic guitar kick in. “I get wild on you baby / I get wild and fucking crazy / Like you never knew” she sings, recalling 2012’s magnum opus ‘Ride’. There’s a real sense of nostalgia, with Lana singing of her childhood dreams, and the less-than-perfect realities of fame. It’s a vivid lamentation of crumbling Americana and desires for a Fitzgeraldian ‘American Dream.’

The iconography of Old Hollywood permeates the melancholic ‘Living Legend’. At its crescendo, Lana lets out a highly distorted moan of frustration. Its cathartic, but it also leaves the listener needing to be soothed; cue the downtempo ‘Cherry Blossom’ and finally ‘Sweet Carolina.’ The latter plays out like a lullaby, dedicated to Del Rey’s new-born niece. Her voice reaches celestial heights whilst gentle piano notes cradle each intonation. “If you get the blues, baby blues / You've got us, we've got you / So there's nothing to lose and we love you” she reassures in a raw and honest display of affection for her sister.

With ‘Blue Banisters’, Lana Del Rey has added perhaps her most open and honest record to her discography. Weaving vivid imagery and mythologised versions of herself into her lyricism, with relatable and confessional song-writing, ‘Blue Banisters’ will delight new and old fans alike. 


Sarah Taylor


Image: Lana Del Rey ‘Blue Banisters’ Official Album Cover


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