On Oct. 22, Lana Del Rey released her second studio album of the year, “Blue Banisters.” Overall, it’s less dialed back than her previous album, “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” but it lacks the full instrumentation of her earlier works like “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” and “Born to Die.”
In my opinion, Del Rey peaked musically on “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” both as a vocalist and a songwriter, but “Blue Banisters” is the closest she’s come to that peak since then.
The album’s title track is where her voice shines best. Her beautiful tone and old-fashioned drawl make for clear and convincing verses while she floats into her ethereal head voice on the choruses. The banisters in her home serve as a beautiful metaphor for a lost love. Many of the other lyrics are incredibly literal, referencing the California wildfires, her close personal friends and even the names of her dogs.
Piano ballads “Violets for Roses,” “Beautiful” and “Arcadia” fit beautifully together but are different enough from each other that they show off Del Rey’s range. “Beautiful” begins with a pretty piano melody evocative of twinkling stars. The lyrics are typical of Del Rey’s melancholy, sometimes-self-absorbed song writing. She writes of someone asking her to be less negative: “What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad?” This is the kind of egotistical sentiment I love about her writing. Only Del Rey could get away with comparing her music to the art of one of the most famous visual artists of all time and leave me giggling.
“Living Legend” was originally recorded in 2013, but recordings of it had leaked before, so it wasn’t a new track. It works well on “Blue Banisters” and would’ve been out of place on “Ultraviolence” or another one of her earlier records. It’s a personal track for her, where she thanks her close friend and mentor.
“Cherry Blossom” is also a leaked song originally from 2013. It’s another of the piano ballads she’s known to execute so well. And it wouldn’t be a Lana Del Rey album without references to Jesus, which we get in “Cherry Blossom.”
The standout track is certainly “Dealer,” which brings back some of the edgier sounds from “Ultraviolence.” The song is a collaboration with Miles Kane, who has uncredited vocals on the track. In a meeting with Interview magazine, Del Rey said, “that song, “Dealer,” where I’m just screaming my head off. People don’t know what it sounds like when I yell. And I do yell.”
I think her assessment is correct: We were really missing out on what it sounds like when she yells. The anger and pain in her voice is just as heartbreaking as it is in all of her music, but the urgency and aggression is unique from her, since she usually performs with a certain demure femininie stance.
“Black Bathing Suit” is another creative track I like almost as much. Del Rey has an old world flair and a certain retro style, which she mixes well with modern references in her lyrics. She opens with, “Grenadine quarantine, I like you a lot / It’s LA, ‘Hey’ on Zoom, Target parking lot.” She is clearly setting the scene in the current era, but her musical style is as retro as ever, which makes for an interesting combination of aesthetics.
Sometimes Del Rey’s inclusion of modern references feels a little ham-fisted and unnecessary, which is where “Blue Banisters” fails. In “Violets for Roses,” she celebrates the end of a pandemic that isn’t over, which comes across as quite tone-deaf, particularly after her mask scandal.
In the opening track, “Textbook,” she sings, “There we were, screaming Black Lives Matter,” in an attempt to romanticize the summer of 2020 following George Floyd’s murder. After she publicly dated a cop for months and made some questionable comments about it, these lyrics feel like an attempt to be hip that trivializes a vital political movement.
“Blue Banisters” is an improvement from “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” but it isn’t quite as strong as “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” Overall, there are a few standouts from “Blue Banisters,” but it’s not a certified “No skips from Sadie” album.