Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Lana Del Rey
2021 • POP/ALTERNATIVE • Polydor/Interscope
BEST NEW MUSIC
Leaning on more intimate aesthetics and a more closed universe, Lana Del Rey’s seventh album shows the best of the beginning of her career with what made her last album an excellent project.
On the day of the release of her sixth studio album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey said in an interview with The Times that she was already working on her next record, which should be out in the next 12 or 13 months and would be a surprise release. However, at that point, we already knew Lana and we already knew about her habit of announcing several things at the same time very early. In 2018, when Lana released her singles for NFR!, “Mariners Apartment Complex” and “Venice Bitch,” she said her album would come out in the first quarter of the year, shortly after publishing a book of poems she was working on called Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass. Time passed and we all know that the record only came out in the second part of 2019 and her book, along with a spoken word album, in the middle of 2020.
This happened with Chemtrails Over the Country Club and its release — we could spend hours citing all the dates of all the events that made the record more and more distant. First, Del Rey said that the album could be called Hot White Forever and that it could be released in 2020. A little later, Lana appeared again saying that Chemtrails would be released in September last year, shortly after the release of her poetry book. Last November she showed up again to say that the album would only come out in March 2021 due to problems in the manufacture of the vinyl. But, after a year late, the album is finally released. With Jack Antonoff in production, Chemtrails Over the Country Club once again features the best parts of the American singer.
Although not her best album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club is one of her most authentic and ambitious projects. Now with folk influences, Lana Del Rey’s album presents a more intimate, closed, and minimalist sound. Leaving aside her criticisms of the American government and painting scenes of visual and sonic delight through her extremely well-written lyrics, Lana, along with her longtime friend and producer Jack Antonoff, delivers an album that, despite not being as elegant as its predecessor, it manages to be very beautiful, honest, sentimental and deep. In other words, Lana Del Rey combined the best of the beginning of her career with the best of her last work.
One of Norman Fucking Rockwell!‘s best qualities that made it one of the best albums of 2020 are the details, the capricious and elegant production. Although Chemtrails is not that fancy, it also has well-done details thought in its favor. Take the title track and lead single from the album as an example, while Lana paints scenes from a vintage summer from the 1960s and 1970s, a piano plays while a guitar brushes some chords. Although it seems simple and minimalist, the song has several instruments, which are played softly, creating a vivid and imaginary fluidity. However, the highlight is the end, where all the details are clear. While Lana’s voice seems to drown, the instruments seem to get increasingly distant from each other and weaker, reaching the point where only the drums are left and Antonoff performs this beautiful stripped-down solo. Later, in the catchy and loving “Wild at Heart,” we can see these subtle details again in the verses, with synthesizers, and in the hook, with tambourines. These days, it’s these details that set Lana Del Rey apart from the rest.
But Chemtrails is much more than just these details but a union of all the best faces that Del Rey has shown in her career. The album’s opener, “White Dress,” one of the most intimate she has ever released, takes the listener to the time before her fame, where she was a waitress and had to fight for the respect of men in the music industry. She begins, “When I was a waitress wearing a white dress,” and completes, “Down at the Men in Music Business Conference/Down in Orlando, I was only nineteen.” However, the most striking part of the song is Del Rey’s vocals, which are very high-pitched, probably the thinnest ever. Meanwhile, “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” on the other hand, showcases the classic — and great — Lana Del Rey, a smooth and gorgeous love song, and “Dark but Just a Game,” one of the best, shows something new that also seems nostalgic. Basically, it’s showing that it can do everything well.
According to Lana Del Rey, Chemtrails would be her folk album. Something that has been in fashion in recent times, with singers from a large audience releasing projects with this sound — Taylor Swift and her folklore and Hayley Williams and her FLOWERS for VASES / descansos. In the same way that Swift with folklore released her strongest album, Del Rey also releases great songs. “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” is the one that comes closest to this sound with the singer next to just a guitar playing only a few chords and notes. In the lyrics, Del Rey talks about trips and existential crises, supporting trips that take people to the knowledge of themselves. Meanwhile, “Breaking Up Slowly,” with Nikki Lane, although not so minimalist and featuring synthesizers that create a cavernous sensation, is a beautiful duet between the two singers, with them embodying the story of the couple Tammy Wynette and George Jones. This is one of the best collaborations both singers have ever made.
However, although this new folkish aesthetic works with Del Rey, it does not seem to be the most appropriate for her. Throughout her career, Lana sang in front of the orchestra — being the cheesy and exaggerated of Born to Die or the elegant and harmonious of Norman Fucking Rockwell!. As much as she had her word spoken album last year and it also showed how versatile she is, here at Chemtrails she doesn’t seem to be totally detached from these early career instruments. Take, for example, “Wild at Heart,” which in all its elegance seems to have come out of NFR!, and “Yosemite,” which seems to be inspired by the Honeymoon’s Hollywood influences. Of course, again, those more minimalist and folk sounds that Lana tried to appropriate here worked, but she also doesn’t seem to be 100% ready for that as she still seems attached to her great complex instrumentations that unite the pop and the classical.
But, not everything is golden in Chemtrails Over the Country Club. One of the disappointments on the record is the fact that Lana does not have a heavy critical hand here as she did on her last record. Look, for example, at “The greatest,” one of the best songs of 2019, with the singer singing about the death of culture. Much more than that, between the lines, Del Rey also criticized patriarchy and masculinity, in addition to addictions to drinking, depression, and loneliness. Here, Lana rarely does that. Look at “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” which, while excellent, seems to glorify the American suburb (“Me and my sister just playin’ it cool/Under the chemtrails over the country club”), and “Tulsa Jesus Freak,” where Del Rey has a relationship with a drunk man, the same one she romanticized at the beginning of her career and the same one criticized on her last album. In a nutshell, Lana seems to have come out of a state where she was an active and critical person and now it’s a passive American who no longer thinks that criticism is that important.
In the final stretch of the album, Lana chooses two songs that, like the one that ends at the end of her other albums, have an open meaning that leaves more questions than answers. “Dance Till We Die” is a tribute by Lana to her favorite singers — Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, and Courtney Love. Basically, Lana says she will keep dancing to these songs until she dies, but the way she says it is in a pessimistic way, almost as if the end is near. It is interesting to mention the bridge of this track that has very cool 1960s rock influences. On the last track of the record, a cover of a song by Joni Mitchell, Del Rey joins Weyes Blood and Zella Day, for a beautiful closing performance. The day after the release of Chemtrails, Lana Del Rey said that her new album will come out in the middle of this year. Well, see you in 2023.