Lana Del Rey is an artist that barely wets the whistle after the traction of excellent singles that lead into any new release. Very few times did it translate, and when it did with Chemtrails Over The Country Club, the slight excitement boiled over me as Lana seemed to have found a better footing since Norman F*cking Rockwell. Unfortunately, the shrill melancholy and emotional depth that empowered Chemtrails have become mostly absent on her follow-up, Blue Banisters. The few singles that preceded the album left a tender and impactful impression. Though Blue Banisters sometimes fails to hit the mark, it left me feeling hollow, as if Lana kept relying on constructive consistency throughout the recording instead of digging deeper into her core. And it took me away from feeling invigorated as Lana meanders around, trying to reflect topical ideas into the mix.
Lana Del Rey can hook-line-and-sinker you with her track ones; however, it does not mirror in Blue Banisters. Opening with “Text Book,” Lana does not remedy the parallels with care, giving off faux-pa broadness as she sings about dating in an era with movements/protests — name dropping Black Lives Matter as a distinction to separate herself from the pack, albeit coming from and leaning around old money. Though she comes about it with a clear understanding, there is little substance — it is trying to make parallels between ideas like opposites attract, modern issues, and allusions to the past to poor effect. It leaves you wondering why she wasn’t able to make it any more nuanced (in the songwriting), considering she is a great writer. The latter becomes a proponent for later songs as Lana tackles various angles of a relationship.
Ironically, these kinds of songs are typically some that Lana excels in, creating these fantastical paintings with her words — it is absent here. She weaves these songs that don’t congregate in a single file line, with an occasional tick walking off the beaten path. It derives from lacking any depth or creativity with the performances, and when it becomes experimental, it begins to lose sight of its strengths — the plucky guitars and twinkly piano keys, with subtle percussion beats underlining the rhythmic direction. There isn’t a moment where Lana catches me by surprise with what she incorporates into her vocal performances. When I hit play on Chemtrails Over The Country Club, it immediately transfixed into a different realm with her sultry and raspy voice on “White Dress.” A mirroring moment comes on “Dealer.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t hit like “White Dress,” leaving you feeling like you can take it off, and it would make it a better album.
“Dealer” is unlike most of the production on Blue Banisters. It has a more bombastic percussion and aggressive strings that fail to hit the mark. Lana, and featured artist Mile Kane, deliver a song that has a wrought perspective of what seems to be an emotionally abusive relationship — or that is what came about it as Miles Kane manipulates his emotions against Lana, going on what may be a binder to escape his woes. He goes about telling her that she’d be better off avoiding these other points of contact as the importance is slim. But the song doesn’t falter because of incompetency. “Dealer” has a great idea behind it with some great production and solid vocal performances, but you’re bewildered why it isn’t better. Fortunately, there are a few songs that brought out Lana’s best complexions.
“Thunder” does what “Dealer” tries, but better as it stems from a deeper center, vocally and lyrically. The latter forms from a trite perspective that doesn’t buoy its themes well, while the former elevates emotions and speaks about a relative subject to many in a relationship. It isn’t to say that “Dealer” doesn’t; however, its broad and direct nature leaves one feeling tired halfway through. On “Thunder,” Lana hones in on her vocals, echoing a soft-spoken demeanor — usually seen in reflexive-perspective songs. In the song, she sings about how her significant other’s two-faced persona has her gripping close to the reality that this person isn’t 100% in, despite the copious talk of rolling thunder or flexing bravado. It is one of two songs that captivated with a first listen — the other is “Arcadia.”
“Arcadia” throws the first punch when Lana takes her first breath, and the first verse begins. She weaves together these intricate analogies to her body, her personality, and all that makes her with idyllic locations being representations. Arcadia, California, is what she sings of — it is a place for her to retreat to and reflect on her career when the stress is high. It has some niche relativity as someone who hasn’t been to those locations will only understand if they compose with their state. However, the production and tender switches in her vocal deliveries keep it flowing with eloquence, especially coming after the powerful ballad “Blue Banisters.”
Blue Banisters left me feeling underwhelmed compared to Chemtrails Over The Country Club, as Lana seems to focus tightly on a single note. The music has its fair share of depth, but there are a few that carry weight. If you’re a fan of Lana, there is enough for you to like; however, Blue Banisters is nothing more than a slight retread of Chemtrails.