New Album Review

Chemtrails Over the Country Club

ALBUM: “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” by Lana Del Rey
LABEL: Interscope
RATING /10: 10 – a country-folk dream
BEST TRACKS: “Tulsa Jesus Freak”, “Chemtrails Over The Country Club”, “Breaking Up Slowly (Feat. Nikki Lane)”
FCC: (none)

The Goddess of sadcore’s long awaited album is here. To announce the release, Lana Del Rey posted an extract on Instagram  saying: “Until we meet again, I’ll be out there, running with the wolves.” If you listen to the album, her caption just makes sense: “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” is about Lana running away from California to the countryside and finding out she’s Wild At Heart” in the process. She makes it very clear that she’s finally found her true self and that she’s not going to let stardom, the media or Los Angeles’ toxicity steal away her identity this time. It’s official: the dream pop queen has turned folk. This album is undoubtedly the result of her embracing both a wilderness and a vulnerability that only genres like 1960’s Americana and country-folk can reliably convey. The harmony between the guitar and the slow piano throughout the album makes for a very soothing record. Compared to the rest of her discography, which mostly depicts heartbreak and sorrow through a sad or glamorous prism, this album sounds like a timid ray of sunshine emerging from behind the clouds. 

Let’s talk about the cover first. Lana’s tendency to get inspiration from the 60’s and 70’s is never a surprise to anyone, so her choosing an old school aesthetic for this album isn’t either. The photograph on the cover depicts a group of women around a table inside a country club, all wearing summer dresses and a cheerful smile on their faces. Lana is standing among them, though barely noticeable at first glance, and she’s smiling like never before. The last time Lana chose to use a black and white picture as a cover was in 2014 for “Ultraviolence” where she was standing alone, staring into the camera with a dreadful look in her eyes. I love the idea that Lana went from glamorizing her loneliness and despair to celebrating her newly found happiness surrounded by equally happy women — as if the path home to herself took finding pieces of herself in other people. Speaking of being surrounded by women, all the featurings on the album are female artists: Nashville singer Nikki Lane on the slow and heart-shattering country ballad “Breaking Up Slowly”, and Zella Day and Weyes Blood on the cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free”.

Now for the actual content of the album. The very first song, “White Dress”, really intrigued me when I listened to it for the first time. Her trying of new high-pitched vocal techniques when she’s always relied on her deep voice was definitely unexpected, but still very pleasant. Each album she releases fits into a completely new era and universe in my eyes, so I’m always open to being surprised. In this song, she reminisces her past life when “[She] was a waitress / Wearing a white dress” in her teenage years, not yet burdened by the crushing weight of celebrity — a recurring theme on the album. “The best ones lost their mind / So I’m not gonna change / I’ll stay the same”: these lines from “Dark But Just A Game” are pretty self-explanatory. As far as I’m concerned, I’m mostly going to listen to this song for the sensual aura of its verses, which are hypnotic and even strangely addictive, but that’s just my take on it.

Lana is now claiming to be “Wild At Heart”, and indeed, the album unveils a side of her persona that’s wild, sensual, free and craving adventure. She’s no longer tied to the glamour of the City of Angels but rather to the recklessness of the countryside. Throughout her discography, the New York-born singer went from idolizing the “West Coast”, to questioning if she really belonged in Los Angeles in her poetry book with “LA Who Am I To Love You”, to eventually wanting to move away from California as far as possible. That being said, the allusions to country culture and the Midwest throughout the record are all pretty obvious: her sharing of religious faith with her lover in “Tulsa Jesus Freak”, her love for living on the road in “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” and her leisure time at the country club in “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” are good examples.

In an interview she gave for Mojo, Lana stated that her new album was  “more innocently emotional” than her previous records, and it would be hard to say otherwise. The fragile and bare emotions Lana had finally been comfortable writing about on both “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” — her last album — and “Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass” — her poetry book — seem to have helped her transcend the desperation she’d been drowning in for years now. She’s no longer holding onto toxic lovers but rather finally owning her side of the story in “Breaking Up Slowly”, my favorite song off the album: “It’s hard to be lonely, but it’s the right thing to do”. I was also glad to find songs on the album that actually portray loving and healthy romantic relationships. Lana has always been heavily criticized for “glamorizing abuse” or only singing about toxic relationships. While I never minded her writing about her own experiences and actually found comfort in her portrayal of heartbreak, lyrics like “You make me feel I’m invincible / Just like I wanted / No more candle in the wind” in “Yosemite” are very relieving to hear. The last thing I’ve noticed about her lyrics is how playful and carefree Lana seems to have become: sunny afternoons spent by the swimming pool, road trips in her old sports car, drinking whiskey and coke at the bar or teasing her love interest about his astrological sign — her new ranch Americana and roots persona seems to be having fun.

I could honestly keep writing about Lana’s music for days, but I’ll end this review here. I’m glad she’s finally found her “own version of America”, by leaving Los Angeles behind and being one with the countryside. As someone who’s been listening to her music for 10 years now, I’m glad she’s finally welcoming warmth, happiness and playfulness into her songwriting — without the underlying fear that often comes with being that vulnerable.

-Lise Nox