Make way for the “Venice Bitch.” Noir pop star Lana Del Rey’s sixth album, Norman Fucking Rockwell!, dazzles from the start. During the fall of last year Lana released “Mariners Apartment Complex.” And despite my love for a handful of Del Ray tracks, I knew this was her overall best. Additionally, Norman is her most musically sound and definitive album to date. This is who Lana Del Rey is as an artist. If she pulled an Andrew Luck right now, I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be mad either, though. While she likely has no plans for early retirement, Lana has nothing more to prove at the professional level. She stays true to her patented transparency. That’s what keeps me an LDR fan. Although I don’t listen to her most days, her tunes re-enter my brain sporadically. I just can’t personally relate to the bulk of her content.
Six-foot-something sad boys aren’t really in my circle. (Y’all do you, though.) However, I do relate to the emotions her pen paints on wax. Lana’s sultry, delicate vocals hit different behind this psychedelic soft rock-meets-folk production style. Piano plays the lead here. Ballad after ballad express Del Rey’s regrets and relationship rubble. She takes listeners by the hand, guiding them through her memory banks. She takes risks and gives second chances while standing firm in her beliefs. Starlit diamonds, flower crowns, and American whiskey. Those are the images that snap into my mind when I ponder this record. The vibe resonating from Norman Fucking Rockwell! resembles a refreshing mild salsa. You know the one — a universal clean taste with enough spice to remind you that you’re eating, but doesn’t punish you for it. Here resides a lovely blend of nostalgic romance and poetic immediacy, resulting in a rather pleasant experience.
Conversely, what holds this album back, in my opinion, is its curation. Due to the vast amount of skeletal ballads, many of these tracks tend to muddle. Her one-dimensional voice, though gorgeous, would benefit from a succinct format. Both “Fuck it I love you” and “Love song” sound utterly generic. She does vary her vocal presentation in the former nonetheless, which I appreciate. Yet this single variation feels less pertinent than it should all by its lonesome. Also, “California” is slightly too vintage Lana for my taste. It unfortunately bores me to death, even though some of the lyrics are touching. In spite of this record’s dreary elegance, it stretches its sound too thin. With about four fewer tracks the album would get its point across more efficiently. The songs, production, and performances are wonderful here. However, it is the structure as a whole that excludes NFR! from pop brilliance.