The tracks on American singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Bannisters” have existed in several different forms over the years. The album name itself underwent many changes over time, including the immediate announcement of its previous name “Rock Candy Sweet” the day after releasing her prior project “Chemtrails over the Country Club.”
The heavy usage of personas defined her early work. Lacking the larger-than-life, drugged-out socialite or the obsession with American fashion and culture of the fifties and sixties, her eighth album severs these influences and for more personal tones.
Her second album this year, Del Rey discusses her family more than in her previous efforts. It primarily discusses the relationships with her parents, as well as the sweet outro supporting her sister as she became a mother.
While the openness is welcomed, there’s a constant dating of the album that shows either an unwillingness to trust her audience or her own abilities to explain.
The album is littered with references to present day buzzwords. Black Lives Matter rallies, Zoom calls and the ongoing pandemic are referenced several times. The album even timestamps the current iPhone in a horrible sequence on the last song.
“You name your babe Lilac Heaven, after your iPhone 11,” Del Rey said. “‘Crypto forever,’” scrеams your stupid boyfriend, F — you, Kevin.”
“Black Bathing Suit” works some pandemic isolation inspired themes into the song well and is one of the more interesting moments on the album, but more often than not, the ideas are scattered in and left while Del Rey moves on.
Del Rey’s made great progress since “Norman F*cking Rockwell” as a songwriter. At the time, tying herself to pop producing phenom Jack Antonoff was an excellent decision and the two worked closely in making “NFR” as well as “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.” Without Antonoff’s hand to help guide the production side, the results become shakier.
The album highlights originate as a result of a 2017-era session with members of “The Last Shadow Puppets,” featuring alternative-rock icon Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys as well as Miles Kane and Zach Dawes, who have several production credits.
The unlisted feature of Miles Kane on “Dealer” is the most exciting moment of the album. The strong r&b influences in Kane’s vocals sound excellent, as do his and Del Rey’s harmonization.
“If You Lie Down Right Next to Me” is another highlight; one of the few moments the folkier production elevates to meet the “Summertime Sadness” singer’s skillset. “Thunder” is exceptional as well, originally part of a more extensive collaboration with Kane’s band.
But as the album tries to find other sources of production assistance, including Mike Dean (who does not deliver his best work), the results fall into a bland imitation of Antonoff or struggle to get footing in a folkier sound.
Del Rey proves on “Blue Bannisters” that she has the songwriting chops to make it in less pop-oriented genres — she just needs to stop making the instrumentals another challenge to overcome.
Listen to “Blue Bannisters” here.
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