Back in 2012, the ever-classy singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey referred to herself as a “gangster Nancy Sinatra” and was thought to have given one of the worst musical performances in Saturday Night Live history. But seven years have passed, and her newest album Norman Fucking Rockwell! seems to be a moment of redemption.
NFR! is her most mature work yet, weaving in references to the music scene of 1960s and 70s Laurel Canyon and experimenting with raw sounds throughout 14 bittersweet tracks.
In her sixth studio album, the 34-year-old singer is striving to create a better, more ideal life for herself, which is something she has been searching for since her first album, Born to Die. From chasing older men to doing hard drugs, Del Rey has been singing about wanting, but never having. In NFR! something changes, and she is trying to move on from the past and look forward to the future.
The title track perfectly sets the stage for the rest of the album, introducing piano and isolated vocals, which remain the most prominent sounds throughout the work. It is here that she also introduces the character Norman Rockwell, who, in real life, was an American author and painter. His most famous paintings portray a typical, ideal American life of freedom, family and love.
“Mariner’s Apartment Complex,” the first single released in late 2018, is the most sonically complex song Del Rey has produced to date, both lyrically and instrumentally. Each verse is intimate and personal, a large contrast to an artist whose private life who has remained elusive throughout the course of her career.
The almost ten-minute “Venice Bitch” is a callback to classic rock with its extended instrumental break. The guitar and synth-dominated track is proof of the heavy influence 1960s and 70s California rock had on the album’s creation, with direct references to artists such as the Eagles, The Beach Boys, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. In “Give me Hallmark; one dream, one life, one lover,” Del Ray reflects on American Hallmark movies with sentimental stories about family and love. This is one of the only times Lana Del Rey directly sings about what she wants, showing she knows the American dream can exist. She admits she wants this dream not only for herself, but for America as well.
In rock ballad “The Greatest,” the singer uses the last verse as a description of the world’s unusual state by referencing the false nuclear missile alert Hawaii received in 2018, the California wildfires, Kanye West’s loyalty to President Trump, and the possibility of having to inhabit another planet using David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?.” She then continues with the line, “I hope the livestream’s almost on,” portraying how distracted we are by social media and other inconsequential topics of the modern world, all in the midst of political issues and climate change.
The emotional and intimate album is evidently Lana Del Rey beginning a new chapter and recognizing the place that she, as well as the world, occupies right now. She alludes to America losing what made it a dream, but remains hopeful for the future.