Lana Del Rey covers new territory in ‘Chemtrails’

Lana Del Rey’s seventh studio album ‘Chemtrails Over the Country Club’ may not be wholly musically distinct from past efforts but lyrically ventures from the coasts into America’s heartland. // Photo courtesy of Ploydor Records

Our Take: 4 Stars

Since her self-titled 2010 studio debut, Lana Del Rey has produced seven studio albums, all which explore kitsch Americana. Her latest, released on Mar. 19, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” does not depart from these themes but explores them from a new point of view.

Lana Del Rey has been in the media for her questionable mask choices and even more questionable political statements more often than for her music recently. While it is hard to separate these actions from music that is so entrenched in an American — and more specifically, a very white American — perspective, this album is without a doubt
packed with hits.

On the Apr. 3 Billboard Charts “Chemtrails” debuted at No. 1, making it Del Rey’s third chart topper. Despite this success, it fails to live up to Del Rey’s 2019 effort “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” which received critical acclaim; as a glowing review from Pitchfork rightly stated: “On her elegant and complex fifth album, Lana Del Rey sings exquisitely of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. It establishes her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.”

Still, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club’’ carves a new place in Lana’s narrative. It chooses to explore her tenet themes of femininity, fame and the American dream (or lack thereof) with a much more somber tone than the glorified grandiosity of previous albums.

This album marks Lana’s departure from the coastal locations of previous albums as she ventures into America’s heartland — new geographical and emotional territory for the singer.

“Tulsa Jesus Freak” is one of the catchiest tracks on the album, and draws heavily from middle-American culture. In the lyrics, religious imagery is rampant and speaks of a man of God who strays. Del Rey highlights this moral juxtaposition that is evident in many American religious communities.

The title track, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” was the record’s first and only single and is a perfect encapsulation of the feel of the entire album.

An absolutely classic Lana Del Rey song, with production mirroring that of “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” this track’s lyrics are inherently visual. American aesthetics like turquoise jewelry, late night TV and red sports cars paint a picture of the album in the listener’s mind.

“Dance Till We Die” was not a single but certainly should have been.

Nearly three minutes into the song the tone changes from a signature Lana sound into something far more interesting, far more 70s sounding and catchy. This sound undoubtedly pays tribute to staple singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell and Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks’ 70s folk rock records — who Del Rey mentions in the lyrics “I’m coverin’ Joni and I’m dancin’ with Joan / Stevie is callin’ on the telephone.”

Lana later covers Mitchell’s 1970 song “For Free” on the last track of “Chemtrails.” Indie-folk singer-songwriters Zella Day and Weyes Blood join in providing resonant depth to Del Rey’s whispery vocals. This rendition of “For Free” may not rival Mitchell’s original, but the track thematically rounds out “Chemtrails” perfectly.

While nearly all the tracks hit home, opening song “White Dress” should have been left off the album or reworked. The chorus — which is delivered at an almost painfully high register — is off putting and features the awkwardly enunciated words “Business Conference” far too many times.

Amidst Lana Del Rey’s personal controversy and accusations of problematic actions she remains as stalwart as ever in her views.

Despite her seeming inflexibility, it is clear that Lana is reckoning with a new America and a new self.

She is truly a great American artist, one who is able to consistently reflect not only a particular zeitgeist of this country, but also a deeply personal portrait.