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Pitchfork gives Norman Fucking Rockwell! a 9.4

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Hunty Bear    11,832

https://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/lana-del-rey-norman-fucking-rockwell/

 

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On her elegant and complex fifth album, Lana Del Rey sings exquisitely of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. It establishes her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.

In 2017, Lana Del Rey stopped performing in front of the American flag. Where the singer-songwriter born Elizabeth Grant had once stood onstage before a wavering projection of stars and stripes, charged by a brash apple-pie and blue-jeans patriotism, she now deemed the flag “inappropriate,” preferring a screen of static instead. For a woman whose songs are like miniature syllabi in American Studies—saturated in references to jazz, girl groups, heavy metal, Springsteen; Hemingway and Fitzgerald; money, power, glory; excess and loss; Whitmanian multitudes—it felt like an act of defiance.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! is Lana at her deepest, and it arrives at a time when the history of America as we know it is being rewritten. Norman Rockwell himself illustrated idyllic images of American life and its history, spending 50 years with the Americana propagandists at the weekly Saturday Evening Post. His best-known works used a wondrous narrative style to center comfort and simplicity: A pastoral idea, painted and personified, of the American Dream. Lana neatly cuts through that outmoded fantasy with an emphatic fucking hyphen mark of irreverence, or enthusiasm, or both. As Lana revives American myths, with an empty deadpan that would make Lou Reed proud, she also exposes them. Like the Beach Boys, she’s looking for America; like Elvis, she’s discomfiting; like Dylan, she’s a trickster, and we are all potentially fooled.

Lana is one of our most complicated stars, a constantly unresolvable puzzle—someone who once called her own work “more of a psychological music endeavor” than pop. But on Norman Fucking Rockwell! that ground-swelling complexity coheres to reveal an indisputable fact: She is the next best American songwriter, period. Trading much of her hardboiled trap-pop and trip-hop malaise for baroque piano ballads and dazzling folk—equal parts Brill Building precision, windswept Laurel Canyon, and 2019 parlances—Lana has begun a dynamic second act in profundity. “I really do believe that words are one of the last forms of magic,” Lana once said, and she exalts each syllable more than ever here. Where her elegant wordplay once made her the Patron Saint of Internet Feelings, she now sounds like a millennial troubadour—singing tales of beloved bartenders and broken men, of fast cars and all of the senses, of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. The stakes have never been higher.

Sometimes Jack Antonoff productions seem to fly because they have been given a trampoline or a children’s bouncing castle. But here, with delicacy and grace, he and Lana find new wings in minimalism, fresh air to breathe, a structural relief. From its cascade of opening piano notes—“God damn, man child” are felicitous first words and the national mood—Norman Fucking Rockwell! achieves levity, tension, and a disarming self-awareness. The languor of Mazzy Starand downbeat skitter of Portishead meet the easy pop-rock breeze of Carole King on 1971’s Tapestry, or the searching resilience of Joni Mitchell on 1972’s For the Roses. It feels like a wall has come down, like Norman Fucking Rockwell! is less to do with camp, and more to do with real life; less to do with scripting the incandescent character of Lana Del Rey and more to do with human complexity; less about aesthetics than being. You can hear the room everywhere, and for all the spectral harmonies and cinematic splendor, it sounds like Lana alone, embracing classic Angeleno isolation.

Lana’s pillars are intact before you even hit play: glamour, eccentricity, the absurd, wit. “Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news,” she proclaims on the title track, with a raised eyebrow, and this forthright song grows more savage from there. On a nine-and-a-half-minute lullaby called “Venice Bitch,” she sings the line “fresh out of fucks forever” like a lilting lady of the canyon—in pop tradition, Lana treats California like a conceptual promised land, and here is the smoggy sprawl, stretching into a neo-psychedelic ballad for a new age of acid festival jams. She curses like the sailors on the cover. She employs old-school lingo on the one hand (“Catch ya on the flipside”) and a narcotic slur on the other. And there is no other pop star who could palatably cover Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” and turn its mall-reggae into something so balmy and sweet.

Above all, Norman Fucking Rockwell! is the sound of a heart shattering and reforming just to shatter again—of troubled people attempting to navigate the mess of love. Her ache is from empathy: for our crumbling world, for the down and out, for lovers at war with their minds. “If he’s a serial killer/Then what’s the worst that can happen to a girl that’s already hurt?” she sings like a crime novelist on “Happiness Is a Butterfly,” which is to say it is fleeting, setting herself up for a kind of heartbreak so torturous it should be possible to have it surgically removed. Many of these exquisitely-narrated songs contain reminders that the trappings of masculinity—breaches in communication, emotional stiltedness, fear of vulnerability—come from the same toxic status quo as systemic patriarchy. On the wrenching “California,” Lana processes as much: “You don’t ever have to be stronger than you really are,” confessing in a tumbling rush that “I shouldn’t have done it but I read it in your letter/You said to a friend that you wished you were doing better.” Each word is on a pedestal; the song exists to amplify them. Her faint country warble wells more with each verse, and it’s devastating.

Radiating new dimensions of sensitivity and eloquence, “Mariners Apartment Complex” is a towering peak on Norman Fuckng Rockwell!, a four-minute drama about fateful potential romantic energy. But its turbulent grandeur could speak to the whole Lana Del Rey story. “You took my sadness out of context” and “They mistook my kindness for weakness” are bold refusals to be misunderstood. Referencing Elton John with her pristine declaration “I ain’t no candle in the wind,” a phrase originally inspired by the early deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Janis Joplin, is a patent embrace of life from a woman who once wrote, “I wish I was dead.” When she sings, “I fucked up, I know that, but Jesus/Can’t a girl just do the best I can?” it could be a mic-dropping rebuttal to the ludicrous standards she faced from the start (and the overblown, Internet-engineered Lana outrage that now seems sexist and pathetic). The Hollywood author Eve Babitz once wrote, “Once it is established you are you and everyone else is merely perfect, ordinarily factory-like perfect… you can wreak all the havoc you want.” Lana’s evolution follows suit. “Mariners Apartment Complex” is the sort of ballad that makes teens want to bang on pianos and spill their souls.

Lana zooms out to find her zenith. A piano ballad to close down the bar at the end of the world, “The greatest” collapses time, as if Lana is writing the zeitgeist on a typewriter, her lines raving up with fevered reference to rock’n’roll and depression and a proverbial “Kokomo.” Turning the weight of a generation into light, her words crest like the white of a tidal wave—“L.A.’s in flames, it’s a getting hot/Kanye West is blonde and gone/‘Life On Mars’ ain’t just a song/Oh, the livestream’s almost on”—and they feel on arrival to have existed forever. As ever, Lana regards the despondency of existence as a realist, offering a funhouse reflection of the way we live.

Call her Doris Doomsday: “The culture is lit/And if this is it/I had a ball,” she resolves with ecstasy and fire, a lightning rod of humor, sadness, and perception; flip jadedness and abiding love. Fanning the flames of a culture ablaze, Lana sings each word like a prayer, finessed with conviction and smoke, chaos, and control. “The greatest” is a galaxy-brain moment in the pantheon of pop, and it belongs to a generation fully aware we are at risk of being distracted into oblivion, Juuling towards early death while watching Earth burn.

But hope does not elude us yet. And Lana has an anthem for that, too. The title of Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s grand finale is itself a doomy 16-word poem called “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have - but I have it.” Whatever it was that brought Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen together half a century ago, that middle ground is in the solemn mood, hollowed space, and spiritual fortitude of this haunting song. In the muted resignation of her voice you can see her “trust no one” tattoo. She rejects a world of luxury, rejects happiness and sadness both, calls herself “24/7 Sylvia Plath.” And in this slow, glowering procession, she points more directly to her own personal history than ever—“spilling my guts with the Bowery bums” as a volunteer, FaceTiming her father “from beyond the grave”—and soberly she sings: “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman with my past.” In the vacant spaces between her dark phrases is the unassailable fact that people bury their pasts in order to endure them.

Norman Fucking Rockwell! is the apotheosis of Lana Del Rey, songs of curiosity and of consequence, darkness and light, a time capsule of 2019, proof that a person cannot escape herself but she can change. Lana has said hope is dangerous because of her own experience, because in Hollywood she “knows so much.” Hope is dangerous because women are rarely taken seriously, from matters of authenticity to cases of assault. Hope is dangerous because the world fails women, and the bigotry to which American power is currently pitched ensures it. Lana calls herself “a modern-day woman with a weak constitution,” witnessing “a new revolution,” with “monsters still under my bed that I never could fight off.” What makes this final song of survival so cutting is the palpable difficulty in her delivery. When she lands on “a gatekeeper carelessly dropping the keys on my nights off,” it sounds like an oblique image of corrupted power, as upsetting as it ought to be, one to finally drain her of hope. But she still has it. In a piercing falsetto we rarely if ever hear from Lana, perhaps saved for her most pressing truth, she touches the sky: “I have it, I have it, I have it.” And when she does, you believe her.

 

 

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Hunty Bear    11,832

they fucking purchased the WHOLE stan card rack jay1 still hate Pitchfork but maybe I have to stan for this one ... ari10 

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Jake    16,463

Holy fucking SHIT dead2 I still hate how they rated BTD so low but since UV they realized they fucked up. Amazing

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Jake    16,463

Read a comment on ATRL that shook me up a bit jj4 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The highest score for a debut (so not them going back and rating old albums/classics) since Black Messiah in 2014.

 

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Hunty Bear    11,832
3 minutes ago, Jake said:

Holy fucking SHIT dead2 I still hate how they rated BTD so low but since UV they realized they fucked up. Amazing

the fucking JUSTICE served here ari10 I will NEVER forget the lashings they gave BTD before doing a 180 when LFL came out ... the greatest backtrack of them all ari10 

2 minutes ago, Jake said:

Read a comment on ATRL that shook me up a bit jj4 

 

I read on ATRL that it's apparently the highest-scoring female album this decade? if that's true A) it's deserved B) surreal and C) also kinda embarrassing for Pitchfork considering that most of the best albums this decade were released by women ari10 

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Jake    16,463
5 minutes ago, Hunty Bear said:

the fucking JUSTICE served here ari10 I will NEVER forget the lashings they gave BTD before doing a 180 when LFL came out ... the greatest backtrack of them all ari10 

I read on ATRL that it's apparently the highest-scoring female album this decade? if that's true A) it's deserved B) surreal and C) also kinda embarrassing for Pitchfork considering that most of the best albums this decade were released by women ari10 

Yep, it apparently beat Beyoncé's Homecoming by 0.1 gag1 Either way, I think it's safe to say this will be her first 80+ album, and possibly even 90. gag1 

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Liam    16,110

lmao Pitchfork jumping on the bandwagon quick gag1 they truly are the worst music journalists to ever exist gag1 

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Jake    16,463

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if Lana was the "surprise" AOTY contender for the Grammys when it's eligible gag1 Just don't send the girl in for pop gag1 

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Hunty Bear    11,832
2 minutes ago, Jake said:

Yep, it apparently beat Beyoncé's Homecoming by 0.1 gag1 Either way, I think it's safe to say this will be her first 80+ album, and possibly even 90. gag1 

it's what she deserves for being robbed and lowballed this WHOLE DECADE gag1 the smugness I feel right now gag1 

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Hunty Bear    11,832
1 minute ago, Liam said:

lmao Pitchfork jumping on the bandwagon quick gag1 they truly are the worst music journalists to ever exist gag1 

7 years late gag1 imagine being 7 YEARS behind the curve...couldn't be me! gag1 

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Andres    1,978

they really switched gag1 deserved score though gag1

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Jake    16,463

This line. It couldn't be more RIGHT  gag1 
On her elegant and complex fifth album, Lana Del Rey sings exquisitely of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. It establishes her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.

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Andres    1,978
1 minute ago, Hunty Bear said:

7 years late gag1 imagine being 7 YEARS behind the curve...couldn't be me! gag1 

they could've gone against the curve back in 2012 when her reputation was in tatters but they only decided to stan once she fully established herself as the legend that she is gag1

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Merryem    6,985

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incredible score for an incredible album tho. what can i say but deserved

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Hunty Bear    11,832
4 minutes ago, Andres said:

they really switched gag1 deserved score though gag1

in the words of Ms. Petty herself, they truly "switched like sissies" gag1 

2 minutes ago, Andres said:

they could've gone against the curve back in 2012 when her reputation was in tatters but they only decided to stan once she fully established herself as the legend that she is gag1

reminder that they gave Born To Die a 5.5 gag1 I don't even want to think about all of the albums that they rated higher gag1 

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Andres    1,978
3 minutes ago, Hunty Bear said:

in the words of Ms. Petty herself, they truly "switched like sissies" gag1 

reminder that they gave Born To Die a 5.5 gag1 I don't even want to think about all of the albums that they rated higher gag1 

embarrassing! gag1 lowkey can't wait to see what the bald melon has to say gag1

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Urbanov    46,847
4 minutes ago, Andres said:

embarrassing! gag1 lowkey can't wait to see what the bald melon has to say gag1

He loved all the songs so far so I don’t expect anything less than 8 at this point 

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Urbanov    46,847
15 minutes ago, Jake said:

This line. It couldn't be more RIGHT  gag1 
On her elegant and complex fifth album, Lana Del Rey sings exquisitely of freedom and transformation and the wreckage of being alive. It establishes her as one of America’s greatest living songwriters.

Her songwriting really SHITS on the rest of FOTP’s faves. The fact that someone was fighting with me not so long ago about Katy Perry being on the same level though... dead1 

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Pandora    1,330

Pitchfork is problematic but this review was incredibly written. The accuracies!

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