Album: Blue Bannisters
Artist: Lana Del Rey
Label: Interscope Records & Polydor Records
Release Date: Oct. 22
Lana Del Rey, an icon of Americana and melancholy, is known for her successful fusion of genres, themes and motifs in dreamy and dreary deliveries.
But the New York artist’s eighth studio album, “Blue Bannisters,” veers from the singer’s typical songwriting and aesthetic producing acumen into a confused and varied conglomeration of old and new styles.
Where “Blue Bannisters” suffers is in its overall repetitiveness, use of awkward and superficial lyrics and sometimes trite delivery of Americana. It’s an album that grazes mediocrity, save for a few standout songs that remarkably contrast the lackluster nature of Del Rey’s newest music endeavor.
The highlight of “Blue Bannisters” is without a doubt Del Rey’s ninth track, “Dealer,” featuring Miles Kane.
With a mellow and inviting beat laid against Kane’s satisfyingly drawn out and weary voice, “Dealer” creates an intensely intimate and bluesy 4 ½ minutes, evocative of a smoke-filled jazz lounge.
Most striking, however, is Del Rey’s bursting and strangled cry when she vocalizes the lyric, “I don’t wanna live,” with a heart-wrenching gasp.
Del Rey powerfully expresses the crushing sentiment, which stands in aching contrast to her typical passive and mumbled delivery.
Her desire not to live feels old and stifled, a trapped feral creature finally clawing its way back into material existence in a mere four words.
Other high points of the album include the fourth track, “Interlude - The Trio,” and the sixth track, “If You Lie Down With Me.”
“Interlude - The Trio,” a one-minute instrumentalist piece, burrows energy into the listener’s bones with its blend of trap beats and “The Trio” score from the spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
It’s hip-hop at high noon, and the duel is between Del Rey’s earlier rap influences and her more focused devotion to the western U.S.
Furthering this call back to previous eras, Del Rey includes “If You Lie Down with Me,” a song written back in 2013.
The song brings the perfect dose of nostalgia to the album, in its elegantly crafted imagery and sultry, sullen lull, particularly in its chorus:
“Dance me all around the room / Spin me like a ballerina, super high / Dance me all around the moon / Light me up like the Fourth of July.”
“If You Lie Down with Me” is hurtfully delicate and necessarily wistful.
This track, however, is the last good listen that Del Rey gives to her audience. From here, the album returns to its overall middling and tired quality.
In multiple tracks, Del Rey attempts to comment on contemporary issues, including COVID-19 and the infiltration of technology in everyday life.
Rather than handle these topics with finesse, Del Rey’s lyricism appears clunky, overstated and even comical.
In “Sweet Carolina,” the 15th and final track of the album, it’s hard to suppress a giggle as Del Rey sings, “You name your babe Lilac Heaven / After your iPhone 11 / ‘Crypto forever,’ screams your stupid boyfriend / F--k you, Kevin.”
The tone is not only startlingly juxtaposed against the soft trilling notes of the song, but of the entire album.
It’s difficult to remain in the ethos that “Blue Bannisters” has built thus far, which speaks of suicidal sentiments and the pitfalls of love, when confronted with rather elementary takes on the internet and online culture.
That’s not to mention the shoehorned and slightly jarring insertion of COVID-19 references throughout the album.
In the eighth track, “Violets for Roses,” Del Rey sings, “The girls are runnin’ ‘round in summer dresses / With their masks off and it makes me so happy.” In the fifth song, “Black Bathing Suit,” she croons, “Grenadine quarantine, I like you a lot” / It’s LA, ‘Hey’ on Zoom, Target parking lot.”
Instead of contextualizing the album based on current times, Del Rey’s pandemic references serve to isolate “Blue Bannisters” from its otherwise emotional universality.
But worst of all is Del Rey’s approach to racial justice movements.
In the opening track, “Text Book,” Del Rey sings, “And there we were, screamin’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ in the crowd.”
Del Rey, who has been criticized for her rhetoric surrounding women of color in the music industry, opts to use the Black Lives Matter movement for aesthetic — rather than as a tool for awareness or benefit.
The choice is questionable at best, and downright inexcusable at worst.
With these missteps in framing “Blue Bannisters” in the context of 2021 America, comes the third track of the album, “Arcadia.”
This song, which in some instances is an apostrophe to the West and the U.S. itself, feels less like a heartfelt homage to the artist and her geographical home, and more like a pseudo-propaganda ad for California tourism.
It’s a love note with all the right structure and all the wrong content.
Overall, “Blue Bannisters,” does not excel as one of Del Rey’s better releases. However, issues in the album are partially ameliorated by the few gems Del Rey has managed to produce.
These scarce lyrical gold nuggets are sure to cement themselves in Del Rey’s popular canon while the rest of the album fades into blurry memory.
Kara Anderson is the assistant arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com