R E V I E W – M U S I C
Arwin Shams Siddiquee
Lana Del Rey’s seventh studio album Chemtrails over the Country Club, released on 19 March, saw the artist reveal a softer, more intimate side to her music. The tracks are full of minimal instrumentals, layered vocals, and rich storytelling. There’s very little energetic grandeur — no electrifying pop numbers like those on previous albums — and just a more calm overall tone. Despite having darker themes and tones, her older work, even then, mainly chose a more lush, upbeat route, with many popular tracks receiving dance mixes and the like.
But for Chemtrails, the mood is decidedly darker, unmasked by grandiosity, perhaps reflecting Lana’s growing distaste of popular culture and criticisms of her work, or maybe she’s just herself. The latter is not unlikely, given her recent outspokenness about her work’s nature and target audience (and the ensuing controversy of her “appearing to pit herself against” female pop stars of colour). The album is more personal, more reflective of herself — it’s a collection of musings and memoirs, in a way. The lyrics speak of disillusionment and the decay of American extravagance, fading love and forgotten bars, and reminiscence in a world on fire.
Chemtrails over the Country Club opens with a sombre piano intro followed by the delicate yet piercing first verse of “White Dress”. The song is all nostalgic suburban summertime imagery and mundane, rose-tinted melancholy. The minimal-sounding instrumentals complement the sharp vocals wonderfully, providing a cushion for the blade. The title track is, once again, filled to the brim with vivid, almost dreamlike imagery. Lana’s layered vocals paired with the buzzing drones and sweeping sequences often make you feel dazed, as if hallucinating, which, at this point, seems to be a running theme throughout the album.
“Tulsa Jesus Freak” opens with lyrics that seem provocative in more ways than one, swinging from taunting to seductive and everything in between. Once again, the vibe is nostalgia — a trance, a drunken stumble through black and white daydreams. The next track, “Let Me Love You Like a Woman”, is much more of a classic love song — slow, ringing piano chords and simple, clean, layered, and harmonised vocals that ring through the spaces in between. You can’t go wrong with that.
“Wild at Heart” is a ballad of complicated love reminiscent of the 70s love songs while simultaneously being very much a Lana Del Rey song. Another simple, albeit enjoyable track. The following way, Dark But Just A Game has — fittingly — a darker tone that switches to a softer, sadder chorus. The switches and vocal transitions from airy to weak to strong and back again compliment the lyrics greatly. In contrast to the previous track, “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” is lighter, almost happier right off the bat. The acoustic guitar alongside the rich yet straightforward vocals is perfect for the tranquil sepia of the lyrics — a song of travel, of life on the road, and quiet freedom.
The transition to Yosemite is almost seamless in terms of tone and imagery — like a break on the journey and a shining moment on a stream of distant memory. Lana sings of reminiscence, and the song feels like it could almost be an old western in some places. A beautiful experience. Next up is “Breaking up Slowly”, full of a love that’s crumbling, falling apart — and yet, one that might be worth holding onto. Nikki Lane’s grittier vocals harmonise beautifully with Lana’s soft, airy runs as the two sing about a difficult choice and the regrets following the decision.
“Dance Till We Die” sings softly of looming loneliness and holding onto the rush of companionship — the harness holding the climber over the abyss until it switches to a jazzy swing in the second verse. The switch feels natural, and the section adds a dash of colour to the song that’s sure to make your move. The album closes on the track “For Free”, featuring Zella Day and Weyes Blood. It opens on familiar piano chords (with a touch of the jazzy runs like those in Dance Till We Die) and Zella singing of a suburban afternoon. Lana steps in on the second verse and Weyes on the third — the simple instrumentals let the vocals shine, and they do shine. The lyrics hold a strong sense of imagery until the very end, taking listeners down to the spot across the street where the clarinet player has a natural good tune for free.
The most vital themes present throughout the album are vivid imagery, introspection, and nostalgia. There is a noticeable cohesion in tone and subject when transitioning between songs and all. Simultaneously, the immerses listener in intimate suburban life stories and days past, all bathed in a different folk and Americana flavour. Fans of Lana Del Rey will no doubt be moved by the music which, as Pitchfork describes it, “…dials back the grandiosity in favour of smaller, more intimate moments.”