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‘Blue Banisters’ Review: Lana Del Rey Revisits and Experiments in her Near-Perfect Album

4 Stars

Album cover for Lana Del Rey's "Blue Banisters."
Album cover for Lana Del Rey's "Blue Banisters." By Courtesy of Lana Del Rey / Interscope / Polydor Records
By Debby Das, Contributing Writer

“What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad?”

So asks Lana Del Rey, dubbed Patron Saint of Internet Feelings, in her latest album “Blue Banisters,” released Oct. 22. The album continues the singer’s tradition of sad, witchy balladry and explores her archetypal themes of tumultuous love and feelings of disquietude. This time, however, Del Rey also focuses on family and friendship and healing, which become just as important as her relationship with her lover. At once timeless and timely, traditional and experimental, “Blue Banisters” is Del Rey’s reckoning of her troubled past with her present surroundings (both physical and cultural) as she revisits her earlier style while presenting her most polished voice yet.

The titular track “Blue Banisters” revels in the quotidian. Sparse, simple piano chords let Del Rey’s dreamy and pensive voice shine, while casually intimate details and dialogue such as “Jenny handed me a beer, said, ‘How the hell did you get there?’” enhance the song’s storytelling power. It’s almost as if Del Rey were sitting in a porch rocking chair with a beer in her hand, telling you matter-of-factly about the man who promised to “fix her weathervane [and] give [her] children.” “Blue Banisters,” like many of the songs that follow in the album, rejoices in domesticity and simplicity, in healing and sisterhood — a focus that beautifully complements Del Rey’s complex emotional emptiness after her lover fails to keep his promises and abandons her: “There’s a hole that’s in my heart all my women try and heal.”

What follows in the track “Arcadia” is one of Del Rey’s sweetest, purest vocal performances in her career and is nothing short of a melancholic triumph. “Arcadia” is at once a love song in which the singer encourages her lover to “run your hands over me like a Land Rover” and a mournful elegy of a self-proclaimed “lost little girl.” Del Rey longs for a place of belonging, a place which the dolefully crooned “America” no longer is. The cinematic violins and rolling brass in the background of “Arcadia” swell in the next track, “Interlude - The Trio,” which overlays heavy trap beats over a Western-inspired brass theme written by Italian composer Ennio Morricone for the movie “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The interpolation of the hip-hop beats with classic strings and soaring trumpets signals a cultural reckoning that underlies several of Del Rey’s songs — “Text Book” has her “screamin’ ‘Black Lives Matter’” — and is especially significant following the final lyrics of “Arcadia”: “You’ll need a miracle/America.”

The interlude also marks the album’s synthesis of Del Rey’s earlier, beat-heavy, hip-hop-adjacent “Born to Die” and “Ultraviolence” eras with the slow balladry of her recent works. In many ways, “Blue Banisters” is a tribute to Del Rey’s earlier style: The tracks “If You Lie Down With Me” and “Nectar of the Gods” were actually written in 2013, just a year before “Ultraviolence” was released. And it shows. The rhythmic, often monosyllabic choruses of songs like “Text Book,” “If You Lie Down With Me,” “Thunder,” and “Living Legend” harken back to the moody pop choruses that defined “Ultraviolence” and “Honeymoon.”

Some of the tracks are better executed than others. “Text Book” suffers from uninteresting verses and a predictable chorus, and a more streamlined album could do without it. “Nectar of the Gods,” with its bare acoustic and simple honesty about the futility of falling in love (“I used to sing about people like you, now I just get high”), is a striking exception, depicting the singer’s dependence on drugs and driving in order to escape a turbulent romance and chronic loneliness.

“Dealer,” featuring uncredited vocals from Miles Kane, deals directly with these feelings of betrayal and drug-fueled melancholy. Kane implores his lover: “Please don’t try to find me through my dealer.” One of the most experimental tracks on the album, Del Rey interrupts Kane’s hypnotic pleas with unrestrained wails of “I don’t wanna live/I don’t wanna give you nothing.” “‘People don’t know what it sounds like when I yell. And I do yell,’” Del Rey told Jack Antonoff for the Sept. 2020 issue of Interview Magazine.

And thank God she does. Del Rey’s Jeff Buckley-esque howls in “Dealer” constitute a refreshing, albeit shakily delivered, contrast to the melodious, fluttering alto that runs consistently throughout the rest of the album. They set it apart from the singer’s similarly minimalist, ballad-heavy album “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” also released in 2021. With “Blue Banisters,” one thing is for certain: Del Rey’s vocals are primed to head in a new direction, and the road looks promising.

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