Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club review
It would be years before Elizabeth Woolridge Grant would land on the pseudonym of Lana Del Rey. First, there was Lizzy Grant, Sparkle Jump Rope Queen, and Lana Rey Del Mar. For a brief period, there was May Jailer: a folk singer-songwriter with peroxide blonde hair and a stoic expression. As May Jailer, Grant produced an acoustic-folk album, Sirens (recorded in 2006 and leaked to YouTube in 2012), consisting of only a guitar and the singular warble of a 21-year-old Grant still finding her feet.
Some 15 years later, Del Rey’s seventh album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club evokes what it was she was trying to capture as May Jailer: a reflection on an America that can be recalled in small towns, washed-up bars, pick-up trucks, and the open road. Only now, Del Rey isn't dreaming about where she's going, she's remembering where she's been.
As is the case with Del Rey’s entire discography, Chemtrails is imbued with nostalgia, the source of which has evolved alongside Del Rey as she’s navigated different artistic eras. We’ve seen her rendition of 50s, 60s, and 70s iconography, as she's embodied the kind of femme fatale you might find in a David Lynch film; a stitched-together blend of Jackie Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, and Priscilla Presley. Del Rey has built a legacy on reviving the ostentation of JFK’s America and the liberation of the Beat Generation, celebrating beloved musical icons like Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Baez, and Stevie Nicks, and literary figures like Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, and Walt Whitman.
Del Rey’s fascination with a certain kind of Americana has often drawn criticism and accusations of whitewashing and cultural appropriation, and glamorising abusive relationships. But whatever your interpretation might be of Del Rey’s chosen brand, she’s never been one to lose herself in empty aesthetics; her ideas are deliberate and communicated with certainty. Indeed, Del Rey continues to demonstrate a commitment to narrativising her experiences—lived or imagined—with lyrics akin to poetry. Her aestheticism, then, is perhaps best perceived as a purely creative experiment, rather than a representation of any social or political ideology.
In saying that, Del Rey does not shy away from controversy. Rather, she has a history of responding to her critics via text posts and videos on Instagram. You get the sense that Del Rey is someone who wishes to be understood and who will go to extreme ends to explain herself. Chemtrails doesn’t feel like a response to the criticism, necessarily, but after almost a decade in the spotlight, there’s a clear disillusionment with fame ("I'm ready to leave L.A., and I want you to come"). It’s not an apology or a cry-for-help, more a personal statement, as she reflects on the realities of existing in the public eye and harkens back to her days as a 19-year-old waitress, listening to Kings of Leon, aspiring to be the acclaimed songwriter she now is. “[I]t made me feel like a God,” she sings in ‘White Dress’, the album's opening track. “It kind of makes me feel like maybe I was better off.”
Other songs are similarly contemplative, like ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ (“The thing about being on the road is there’s too much time to think about seasons of old”) and ‘Yosemite’ (“Seasons may change but we won’t change”). But unlike Del Rey's previous efforts (particularly 2017’s Lust For Life), Chemtrails is largely free from highly produced, electrified vocals. Instead, her voice is clear and gentle, as she surmises her vision of escapism. It's one we’ve heard from Del Rey before: travelling the open road, either alone or with a brooding man, as she frequents small towns, motels, country clubs, and wide open spaces. This time, though, it’s Del Rey at her most introspective, both a departure from the artist we've come to know and a return to something more inherent; a woman and a girl, without a pseudonym, staring at a future that reflects the past.