The best songwriters possess the rare ability to say more in a four-minute song than most can say in their entire lives. These select few can articulate the musings of an entire generation in a way that paints a picture of a whole time period. With her latest album Norman F—ing Rockwell, Lana Del Rey submits her case to be admitted to this exclusive group with lyrics soaked in nostalgia and anxiety paired with producer Jack Antonoff’s sorrowful melodies to produce an all-around magnificent album.
Norman Rockwell, the album’s namesake, was an artist known for painting pictures of the American Dream; a dream Del Rey chases throughout the album. Since her 2011 breakout “Video Games”, Del Rey has been known for her melancholic style of pop thanks to lyrics with an innate understanding of love and the world around her. Del Rey turns this to the extreme on the album, partly in thanks to Antonoff, who has turned into a pop super-producer over the course of the decade.
Del Rey kicks off the album with the title track, followed by “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” and “Venice B—-.” These three tracks are reflections on lost love with nostalgia for a better time in Del Rey’s life, mirroring her wish to live the American Dream of the past.
The album continues to ramp up, moving to an ode to the corruption of California in “F— It I Love You,” and hitting listeners with one of the album’s best songs. “Love Song” is beautifully mellow, moving into one of Del Rey’s trademark winding choruses and continuing the album’s shift into a more psychedelic tone. Del Rey dreams of a love she doesn’t have, keeping with the record’s theme of lost love and nostalgia.
With the album continuing to crescendo, Del Rey moves to the album’s tenth track, “The Next Best American Record,” a series of vignettes of a past relationship, before peaking with “The Greatest,” one of the album’s best songs. Musically, Antonoff’s guitars are excellent, especially a solo after the first chorus that echoes California music of the early 1970s. Del Rey’s lyrics hit their peak in terms of nostalgia as Del Rey expresses missing Long Beach, New York, rock ‘n’ roll and a past love.
“The Greatest” is politically charged as well, mentioning the Hawaiian missile alert, the climate crisis and Kanye West’s support of President Donald Trump, the latter of which Del Rey once called a loss for the American culture. The album peaks with this song; a ballad about the state of American culture and how Del Rey is jealous of the time when the American Dream was more than just an idea.
Lana Del Rey’s Norman F—ing Rockwell is one of 2019’s best and most significant albums. The record deals blow after blow of nostalgia in Del Rey’s lyrics while Antonoff’s music turns more and more psychedelic as the album progresses. Del Rey exhibits an understanding of America right now: one where the American Dream is just to be able to live as freely as Americans did a half century ago.