Grimy Glamour, Heartbreak and Healing and Faded American Dreams On Del Rey’s 'Blue Banisters'

Lana Del Rey's new album 'Blue Banisters' finds our consummate queen of heartbreak more bewitching than ever.

Sounding glamorous, lonely and hopelessly heartbroken, Lana del Rey has maintained her signature soulful balladry on Blue Banisters, while dialling up her confessional honesty. The singer-songwriter’s eighth album arrives mere months after her last album, Chemtrails Over The Country Club. That shimmering, ethereal montage of memories, fears and desires set the groundwork for this album. It also made evident that Del Rey had responses for her critics, who have only become more virulent and noisy as lockdowns drive the world to social media: all day, every day.

On April 28th, she posted to Twitter: “I'm writing my own story. And no one can tell it but me".

Don’t be fooled. Del Rey is threading her personal stories, her beliefs, her opinions throughout these tracks, but they are woven in with cliched, broken-hearted dissections of love gone wrong. Did anyone come to Del Rey for a memoir, though? We came for that voice, and her compelling ability to be whimsical and romantic one moment, then bewitchingly sultry, seductive and bluesy. The trailer-park goddess persona she either created or amplified remains at the core of her music. She’s a hustler, a storyteller, a delicately classic beauty, a loner, a dreamer and perhaps, most importantly, a young woman in the US trying to grow up and justify her every move, personal and professional, to critics who lap up their failed idols like hungry wolves as joyfully as they celebrate their achievements.

On “Beautiful”, she ponders what may have become of Picasso if he’d been held to the same demands to tame his wildness, or curb his emotions amid the spectre of 'cancel culture'. 

“What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad? / Never known who he was or the man he'd become / There would be no blue period / Let me run with the wolves, let me do what I do / Let me show you how sadness can turn into happiness / I can turn blue into something.”

As beautifully delicate, understated and gorgeous as the instrumental arrangements are on “Blue Banisters”, Del Rey’s magical voice delivers some haunting, clever – and sometimes hilariously caustic – lyrics. On the surface, as in “Arcadia”, sometimes they are so poetic and conceptual that their meaning doesn’t strike a chord until the 10th repeat listen. She has penned a longing farewell to Los Angeles, likening the geography of the city of angels to the curves of her own lips, hips, chest and arteries. She is headed for the untouched, utopian realm of mythical Arcadia.

“They built me up three hundred feet tall just to tear me down / So I'm leavin' with nothing but laughter, and this town / Arcadia / Findin' my way to ya / I'm leavin' them as I was, five foot eight

/ Western bound, plus the hate that they gave / By the way, thanks for that, on the way, I'll pray for ya”.

For the most part, the songs are built on simple piano melodies, with subtle strings that contour lovingly and carefully around Del Rey’s impressively ranging vocals. Now and again, there’s a trumpet and a tambourine shake for good measure. But then, there’s unexpected jams like the narcotic, woozy jazz of “Dealer”.

The fuzzy, slinky beats and the vaguely unhinged sing-song wail at a lazy lover partners Del Rey (“why can’t you be good for something?” she howls) with Miles Kane of the Last Shadow Puppets. It’s enormously funky, and delightfully funny, too. His woozy, laddish vibe plays well with Del Rey’s jazzy, femme noir stylings.

“Please don’t try to find me through my dealer / He won’t pick up his phone / Please don’t try my doctor either / He won’t take any calls / He’s no fuckin’ spirit healer / He just can’t stop to talk”.

There exists, somewhere out there, an unreleased collaborative album between Del Rey, Kane, Zach Dawes, Loren Humphrey and Tyler Parkford, recorded in 2017. If “Dealer” is indicative of the rest of that mysterious album, let’s hope it gets released eventually.

It is a curveball song in a soundscape that is all blues, lilacs, greys and purples. It is dreamy, oceanic, feminine and dramatic as moments of pure emotion glimmer in the cloudy atmosphere. It is not her story, though, or at least, nothing comprehensive or definitive. She remains, as ever, alluring and elusive.

Blue Banisters is a work of beautiful, pared-back instrumental arrangements tinged with Americana and jazz. Del Rey’s sultry, romantic voice, a love song to her friends, her country, and her own wild ways. Whether it’s deep and warm or a sweeping falsetto, her voice is the siren’s call. At her best she is breathtaking, and while there are some ordinary tracks here that could have been left on the cutting room floor, tracks like “Dealer”, “Thunder”, “Sweet Carolina'' and “Beautiful” justify the asking price alone.

Cat Woods is a freelance journalist, pilates and yoga teacher with phenomenal musical taste (in her opinion) and an Instagram dedicated to her ever-changing hair colours. And the two small dogs who reign over her life. Find her on Twitter at @catty_tweeter or on Insta at @cat13gram.

More good stuff:

The American nightmare Of Lana Del Rey's 'Chemtrails Over The Country Club'

Lana Del Rey Responds To Backlash Over Album Artwork

A Love Letter To The 2010s 

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