It has been a decade since Lana Del Rey broke into the mainstream with her 2011 viral success, “Video Games.” Her fresh voice combined with the video brimming with themes of melancholia, romance and a bewitching nostalgia for 1960s Americana captivated the internet and earned Del Rey critical and commercial success.
Since then, she has released seven critically acclaimed albums and has been continually lauded for her songwriting abilities and unique style. Commercial success and controversy aside, it is clear that Del Rey has always had something unique and tantalizing to offer fans through her artistry. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” her newly released 11-track album, is an intimate and tender expression of her womanhood, vulnerability and artistry as a singer-songwriter in American society.
Produced by Jack Antonoff, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” is one of Del Rey’s most understated and fragile-sounding albums yet. The tracks find Del Rey’s vocals often disappearing and blending into quiet percussion, delicate drums, ambient guitar and solemn piano. These songs are disassembled to include only their most necessary components of instrumentation, constructing a mesmeric feel of quiet meditation throughout.
“Chemtrails Over the Country Club” begins with “White Dress.” Accompanied by somber piano notes and soft percussion, Del Rey reminisces about her time working as a waitress when she was only 19, as she worked hard for her dreams. On the track, she seems both nostalgic for that simpler time and proud and happy for how far she has come. “Like, look at how I got this,” she sings with classic, airy vocals. “Down at the Men in Music Business Conference / I only mention it ‘cause it was such a scene, and I felt seen.” Her voice rises to its highest ranges in an airy soprana, perhaps mirroring the female fragility she recalls about her younger, pre-fame self.
Del Rey, a decade-long successful music career behind her, continually ponders over the tricky business of fame and loneliness within the album. She reflects on this country’s outward representation of glamorous wealth and success while covering up something dark underneath, an observation that has endured throughout her work.
On this album, her disillusionment with and attraction to fame is more sober and substantial than ever. In “Dance Till We Die,” she sings, “Troubled by my circumstance / Burdened by the weight of fame.” But she refuses to be pulled down by the negative promise. She continues, “We’ll keep walkin’ on the sunny side / And we won’t stop dancin’ till we die.”
Similarly, in “Dark But Just a Game,” she reflects on the disastrous effects that fame can have on a person’s mental health. “The best ones lost their minds,” she laments. But, considering this, she promises, “I’m not gonna change / I’ll stay the same.”
Del Rey touches on the solidarity of other female artists throughout the album. In “Breaking Up Slowly,” she is joined by singer-songwriter Nikki Lane; together, they harmonize about the pain and strength of breaking up with someone when it is the right thing to do, instead of desperately trying to hold on to the relationship. It is a powerful message accentuated by Lane and Del Rey’s strong vocals and soulful energy.
The last track of the album, “For Free,” in which Del Rey sings alongside artists Weyes Blood and Zella Day, is a tribute to an original Joni Mitchell song. Verses in “Dance Till We Die” such as “I’ve been covering Joni and dancing with Joan / Stevie’s calling on the telephone / Court almost burned down my home / But, God, it feels good not to be alone,” beautifully reflect the connection Del Rey feels with the female artists she looks up to. Her voice is the star of the track; the dynamic instrumentation that complements her melodic vocals slowly grow louder and more expressive throughout the song.
On the album’s cover, Del Rey sits alongside her sister and a group of smiling female friends. The album is laced throughout with soulful feminine energy — both strong and subtle, potent and delicate.
One of my favorite tracks is “Wild at Heart,” in which Del Rey sings about being loved for her authentic self. It is a poetic and touching look into how she views her complex identity — famous and subject to flashing cameras that “cause the car crashes,” but still wild at heart, wishing to remain true to herself and to be loved for what’s underneath. “But I’m not a star,” she asserts. “If you love me, you’ll love me / ‘Cause I’m wild, wild at heart.”
In the straightforward “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” Del Rey sings about wanting to leave LA with her partner and hold them “like a baby.” She wants to shine “like a diamond” and be who she is meant to be. She doesn’t care where she and her partner go, only wishing to be with them and love them “like a woman.” Her smooth and lilting vocals are accompanied by soft piano and ambient guitar. The lyrics are a heartfelt expression of the desire to nurture that some women feel in relationships. By singing about her own wish to do so, Lana beautifully honors such a sentiment.
“Yosemite” brings a change in sound with a distinct guitar rhythm and organic percussion. Del Rey’s voice moves naturally over the instrumentation, open and unaffected. The lyrics are an intimate telling of her tranquility and love in a relationship: “Seasons may change / But we won’t change / Isn’t it sweet how we know that already?”
Overall, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” is a subtle yet wonderful display of Del Rey’s vocal and songwriting abilities. Her lyrics are complex and heartfelt, showcasing the powerful honesty she possesses that so many of her fans find themselves drawn to; she continues to bare her heart to her audience while staying true to herself.
Her vocals are dynamic, somber and strong. She sings sweetly and subtly while touching upon the deepest subjects. While listening to “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” I felt both calmed and intrigued, actively listening to what she had to say while being lulled by her calming vocals and the ambient instrumentation supporting them. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” will certainly stand as an understated but valuable testament to Del Rey’s enduring prowess as an artist in the American landscape.