The cult alternative artist’s fifth studio album is a delightfully melancholy glimpse into Lana Del Rey’s truest self
Since the beginning of her career, Lana Del Rey has tediously confected a careful aesthetic that dominated her music, more so than the music itself–American flags, Budweiser, an undeniable attraction to older men–but what Del Rey failed at was removing the red white and blue masquerade that conveyed her music as artificially emotional.
However in “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” Del Rey seriously attempts to explore her inner psyche, what motivates her and what she is incapable of. And by the end of the record, it is very clear that Del Rey has issues. She is messy, passive, overly empathetic–but finally, for once, we get a true glimpse into who Lana Del Rey truly is. And so does she.
The first track of the record, “Norman fucking Rockwell,” sets a mature tone for the rest of the record, beginning with a myriad of melodic, old-fashioned strings. It is immediate that this album will be highly distinguished from every previous one, but when Del Rey’s heavenly vocals are introduced, the same cynical Lana we’ve become accustomed to is still there.
“Goddamn, manchild/You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you,” Del Rey sings. She’s grown tired of egotistical, snobby, artistic men–“Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news”–But despite this realization, she cannot help her attraction and succumbs to desire, accepting this highly flawed man for himself: “But I can’t change that and I can’t change your mood.”
Del Rey draws a broader conclusion and acknowledges that her attempts at love will always be fruitless. “You’re just a man/It’s what you do/Your head in your heads/As you color me blue.”
Del Rey’s songwriting abilities have evidently improved, most observably on “Mariners Apartment Complex.” It is the most coherent and thorough track from the entire album, and possibly of Del Rey’s entire discography. A bright piano riff and a gentle guitar strum conjoin to introduce Del Rey’s deep hum; “You took my sadness out of context/At the Mariners Apartment Complex/I ain’t no candle in the wind,” she asserts.
She continues, “I’m the bolt, the lightning, the thunder/Kind of girl who’s gonna make you wonder/Who you are, and who you’ve been.” Del Rey’s confidence has blossomed immensely, and she’s begun to take on a more dominant role in her relationships.
She won’t be pushed around anymore, but she’s willing to nurture those who do love her. “You lose your way, just take my hand/You’re lost at sea then I’ll command your boat to me again/Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am/I’m your man.”
While this record is full of musical diversions, Lana Del Rey still remains a master at composing a devastatingly gorgeous piano ballad. “Happiness is a butterfly” is a depressingly helpless masterpiece that finds Del Rey empathizing with a possible murderer. She’s almost comically jaded in her words: “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst/That can happen to a girl that’s already hurt?”
Or maybe the exhaustively titled “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but i have it,” the most elevated and haunting song off of the record. Del Rey truly outdid herself with this song, a song solely charged by the power of her poetry; “Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not/But at best I can say I’m not sad/’Cause hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have/But I have it.”
It is evident in her fifth work that Lana Del Rey is and perhaps always will be incurably sad. While her expression of “sadness” before appeared childish, Del Rey’s vulnerability in NFR! finally validates her feelings.
And despite having such a particular, tailored persona, the lyricism of this record transcends any superficial notion previously established; it is at once, mature, young, free-spirited and confined, all simultaneously existing together.
NFR! is a definitive progression of Del Rey’s artistry and a landmark of authenticity in her career. Lana Del Rey has finally found herself.