THE FULL ALBUM REVIEW
Isaac, Abbie & Olivia reunite – 2 months since they reviewed Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club single release – to see whether their album predictions were correct, and share their unrestrained thoughts on the full album…
If you missed the previous review & predictions, you can catch up here.
Who got it right? Only one way to find out…
Time to reach into the memory archives and bring Lana out again. I haven’t listened to, or even thought about her since the last review, so despite my positive take, the record clearly didn’t have that much of an impact on me. Now that time has passed and I’ve listened to the full album, that take has become much more tepid.
I had said I hoped this album would explore change, and listening closely it seems I got what I wanted in the same way my local takeaway technically got my order right. Lana Del Rey grapples with stasis and change, imposter syndrome, and the impact of fame, but completely fails to elicit any emotion from me.
It’s not that the album is bad; as with its title track, Chemtrails Over The Country Club holds on to the beautiful vocals and dreamy harmonies that make Lana Del Rey great. However, only two songs stuck out to me: Dark But Just A Game and Dance Till We Die. These were the only songs that broke new ground, one bringing in a more rhythmic music style, and the other drawing on elements of rock and roll to create stand out tunes outside of Del Ray’s comfort zone. I wish she’d kept building on the foundations laid down in these songs to make something truly unique.
Instead the album is troubled by a total absence of conflict. Handling the effects of fame is a theme with a lot of potential, but one so detached from normal life that it takes a lot of sensitivity to pull off; Lana Del Rey seems to accost it into her aesthetic and call it a day. The album explores these feelings through the story of a woman travelling across the American south with a lover(s) as she goes she reflects on her relationship with fame, but it’s all watered down through symphonies to the lover. It’s like Del Rey is trying to play it safe with a love song, and hide the theme of change underneath without exploring it. The result is detached and inauthentic, an issue that’s only compounded by the use of working-class bible-belt aesthetics from a relatively-privileged New Yorker. It ends up being a romanticised story of rejecting fame and running away with the people you love in order to stay true to yourself, jumping through so many layers of detachment that the album never takes more than a cursory glance at any emotional truth.
The absolute worst offender is Not All Who Wander Are Lost. A song that takes the lovely little aphorism flashed around by hiking instagram and LOTR nerds, and repeats it at a painful pitch without adding any commentary. I can’t see even the die hard Lana fans enjoying this one.
I want to be clear: this is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination. It sounds pretty, and successfully dips its toes into new ground. Unfortunately it’s largely a repetition of the dreamy love songs Del Rey has been making for a decade, and offers very little for anyone besides her core fanbase. Yes, she is welcome to make the music she wants and has no obligation to appeal to anyone else, but that’s no reason not to take a risk. Plenty of artists have had their core fans follow them in making musical experiments and have produced some of their most impactful work as a result. I don’t want her to write an album for me: I just want her to attempt an album that does more, she clearly has the talent.
If you read our review of the titular track of this album before its full release, you might remember that I’m not exactly a fan of Lana Del Rey. You may also remember that I wasn’t particularly forgiving about the track in question. Before listening to the full album I actually gave myself a very stern talking to about letting this (entirely one-sided) feud die, and approaching the album with a clear head – after all, I’d only really listened to her most famous singles previously, perhaps I was missing something about the arc of her full albums that could have put the singles in perspective.
I must confess that I could not hold on to this desperate optimism for Chemtrails Over The Country Club, and I was approximately 49 seconds into the first track of the album when all my old grievances came back with a vengeance. Don’t get me wrong; it would be ridiculous to claim that Lana Del Rey isn’t talented, or that she can’t sing, or that she doesn’t know how to brand herself. Her huge and dedicated fanbase is a testament to all these things, as well as the fact that at one point in time – circa Born To Die – we really hadn’t heard many artists like Lana in the mainstream before. However, I think the real problem is that her songs are impossibly unrelatable to the general public, and this album is the epitome of that issue.
When I say unrelatable, I mean in a really confusing and quite unique way. Lots of bangers aren’t relatable at all – when I listen to Megan Thee Stallion’s Savage, I’m not thinking ‘wow, this is really pertinent to my lifestyle’ – but mostly, popular songs speak to universal experiences (like love, grief, conflict) or capitalistic fantasies (excessive money, cars, big houses, power, fame), in a way that makes us think ‘I know that feeling’ or ‘I’d like to know that feeling’. When Lana addresses these topics in her music, it’s through a lens that feels so detached, privileged and inauthentic that it becomes inaccessible. We used to cling onto Lana’s signature breathy harmonies and dreamlike melodies instead, as they were a breath of fresh air on the radio. Now, 10 years since Lana’s mainstream debut, I think (sadly) the novelty has worn off.
This album speaks of rejecting fame and all that comes with it, but it reads more like Del Rey rejecting the notion that she’s privileged. I can see why she’d want to; as I mentioned in the previous review, in recent years Lana has consistently been in hot water over the exact level of privilege that this album attempts to deny. A lot of the lyrics paint Lana as your typical small-town girl, and are probably quite misleading (she sings “I come from a small town far away” – but c’mon Lana, we know you were born in Manhattan). What I’m saying is – the attempt at privilege coverup isn’t successful, and by the end of the album, we’re just more perplexed about who Lana Del Rey really is underneath the cinematic personas she paints for herself musically. I don’t necessarily think she owes us that authentic narrative (if I were in the spotlight, I’d certainly want to keep some things private), but it feels like a barrier to how well we can relate to her music, and leaves her songs not really saying, well, anything.
Obviously, I’m not a fan – but I might be in the minority. I know Del Rey has a large, committed and loyal fanbase who I’m sure are loving this album. I’d genuinely love to chat to some of them, because I feel like I must be missing something. Lana stans – if you’d like to educate me (and accept that I may be uneducable), let’s have a coffee together.
Before listening to the full album of Chemtrails Over the Country Club, I tried to remember what I thought of the title song release back in January and sadly, what I mostly recall is the repetitiveness of the melody and anticlimactic story. I hoped that the full album would develop on the hints of visual nostalgic imagery that I initially enjoyed and build a stronger story across the 11 songs but again, I’ve been left feeling a little, let’s say, bored?
On my initial listen of the title track Chemtrails Over the Country Club I felt that there was an abundance of references to privilege and this definitely carries throughout the whole album. There was a real sense of ‘look at me’ in the title track but as the album unfolds, Lana in fact, goes on to reject this privilege and wealth that coincides with fame, which some might interpret as ungrateful but I see this as something much deeper. Something worryingly dark about this thing called stardom. I guess this is the reveal of the ‘something much darker is looming’ that I felt in my first review.
Dark But Just A Game so obviously hints that there is a tragic ‘price of fame’ and that ultimately it’s all just a game that seemingly has to be played to succeed. Wild At Heart is Lana’s attempt to disassociate herself from the fame that comes with her international success, boldly declaring ‘I’m not a star’; something which I’m not so sure is believable, given her references to jewels, sports cars and country clubs. Perhaps this is Lana trying to humble and ground herself to be more relatable to those beyond her fan base, which might be of some help, following the recent widespread criticism over the album artwork.
‘The cameras have flashes, they cause the car crashes’ a lyric which I think is so poignant with the continuous awareness surrounding the impact that fame has on an individual’s wellbeing, though an unexpected scenario for an artist who manages to keep reasonably below the radar of the flashing lights and paparazzi. Yet, I see this as a stark reminder of the impact of social media and digital press and how they have devastatingly become things that are often detrimental to a fame-ridden person’s mental and physical health.
Lana’s vocal and musical style is distinctive and she unapologetically owns that (you go girl), but with this, it makes all her songs sound the same to me. It’s even more evident when listening to a full album of hers for the first time, where I more often than not, failed to notice when one song became the next, but this could be because my mind, at times, drifted somewhere else due to the lack of variety in rhythm, pace and sound.
I do however, remember one particular song; the opening track White Dress. After a few listens to the album, I can hear that Lana is trying something a little different here and pushing herself to the limits of her vocal range, though with the same wispy and breathy style. The interest that this song sparked was a positive and intriguing start but this intrigue soon diminished throughout the rest of the album. I can’t help but wish that White Dress had been placed further along in the album, to draw me back in and capture my attention a little.
So really, the hope and intrigue I once had before listening to Chemtrails Over The Country Club hasn’t quite been fulfilled. I don’t deny that Lana Del Rey is talented in ways that I could only imagine to be and she has a strong following of fans, so she must be doing something right. For me though, this is an album (and artist) I’m unlikely to return to once I’ve finished typing this review.
You can listen to Chemtrails Over The Country Club on all major streaming platforms.