Lana Del Rey’s ‘Blue Banisters’ is her strongest release this year
After releasing Chemtrails Over the Country Club earlier this year, American it-girl Lana Del Rey is back with her eighth studio album, Blue Banisters. In anticipation for the album, Del Rey released four singles: Blue Banisters, Text Book, Wildflower Wildfire, and Arcadia. Yet with the release of the album, there proves to be a handful of considerably stronger tracks that would have made for more captivating singles.
The album begins with single Text Book, which places its main emphasis on Lana’s silky smooth vocals, yet the lyric “There we were, screamin’ Black Lives Matter” sticks out like a sore thumb, as though Del Rey is trying to make amends for her controversial ‘Question for the Culture’ Instagram post that some deemed insensitive. Following this, we are given Blue Banisters and Arcadia, which follows a similar stripped back style of instrumentation as Lana laments over a lover that does not keep his promise. These tracks show a shift in Del Rey’s writing style, which has become a kind of stream of consciousness, however, as always, her lyrics are rich with vivid imagery.
After Arcadia, the album takes an unexpected turn, as Del Rey interpolates Ennio Morricone’s The Trio, from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly with booming trap beats – a world away from the songs that precede it. From this point, the album becomes more musically engaging, as Del Rey incorporates more crashing drums and interesting vocal performances, such as Black Bathing Suit’s deranged-sounding shouted backing vocals. If You Lie Down Next To Me appears next, a track that was originally written for 2014 album Ultraviolence. However, the track fits perfectly on Blue Banisters, with a gorgeous nostalgic jazz outro closing the song. The album continues with piano ballads Beautiful and Violets for Roses that focus on sadness and the pursuit of finding happiness. These tracks employ some gorgeous lines such as Beautiful’s “what if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad? / Never known who he was or the man he’d become / there would never be no blue period.” Del Rey shows considerable maturity on the album, as she contemplates her sadness as a positive that she can learn from.
However, from Dealer onwards, the album confirms itself as the stronger output from Del Rey’s 2021 efforts. The track, a duet with The Last Shadow Puppet’s Miles Kane, proves itself to be one of the greatest songs on the album, with a hazy drum beat driving the track through Del Rey’s most impressive vocal performance to date, as she yells “I don’t wanna live/ I don’t wanna give you nothin’.” Her voice works in perfect harmony with Kane, often whispering spoken lines to back him. Another standout track comes in the form of Thunder, which she also worked on with The Last Shadow Puppets, which is audible in the string sections and more upbeat tempo of the track. The songs’ bridge is the highlight of the song, a powerful, nostalgic, and determined section in which Lana sings “just keep burning, keep me alive.”
The album loses momentum in the form of Wildflower Wildfire, a skippable track, using cliché lyrics such as “I’ve been runnin’ on stardust.” However, the album picks up again in the form of Nectar of the Gods and Living Legend, the former sounding like an early Lizzy Grant track, and the latter incorporating a hard-hitting ending made up of Lana’s voice imitating an electric guitar. It’s powerful and intense and stands out amongst the piano ballads that fill the earlier half of the album.
Penultimate track Cherry Blossom is an unreleased favourite in the Lana Del Rey fanbase, so its official release comes as a pleasant surprise. It takes the form of a lullaby, a gentle ode to an imaginary daughter Del Rey names Angelina. The song is tender, and its imagery is simply touching. Closing the album is Sweet Carolina, written by Del Rey’s father, sister, and close friend. The song is a gorgeous tribute to her sister Chuck, who was expecting a baby at the time. It is the perfect closer for the album, beautiful piano circling around Lana’s words of love for her family: “Don’t have to write me a letter / ‘Cause I’ll always be right here / Closer to you than your next breath, my dear.”
Many of the songs on the album were written almost a decade ago but never made it onto the albums Lana was working on at that time, however, they find their feet on Blue Banisters. It seems as though Lana’s departure from working with Jack Antonoff, who produced her previous two albums, has proved successful, as she creates a more sonically diverse palette of sounds that create an engaging and memorable listen.