Lana Del Rey returns with her second album in a year, and it feels like Chemtrails Over The Country Club was simply a warm-up for the musing and captivating storytelling of new release Blue Banisters.
Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019) was a difficult act to follow, with its bravado and very positive critical reception, and earlier this year Chemtrails Over the Country Club felt like somewhat of a let-down of a follow-up album. But, it seems like Del Rey perhaps thought this herself too, as Blue Bannisters takes its place as the follow-up album that should have been.
The singles from the album didn't take the world by storm, but it seems unlikely they were meant to. Every song on Blue Bannisters works better as part of the whole rather than individually. Once you get the energy and the general sonic feel of the album, the songs make much more sense. Outside of that, they feel a little...'meh'.
Blue Banisters takes Del Rey's classic melancholy tone and combines it with genuinely beautiful, perhaps biographical, storytelling which is detailed and well thought out. The storytelling is so engaging that even the songs that don't experiment with the production of vocals hold up well with the rest of the album. Del Rey is incredibly good at setting a scene, and a universe, within her music. She tells these honest and winding stories in a way that makes it seem like you're right there, watching her talk with ciagrette in hand at a basically empty old bar.
That being said, it's where Del Rey takes risks that we really see this album shine.
What is particularly interesting about Blue Banisters is Jack Antonoff is missing from the production of these tracks, despite featuring on both NFR and COTCC Recently Antonoff received a bit of backlash for making very different artists sound similar, which could be an explanation for why Del Rey separated from working with him. However, this break seems to have had positive results.
It seems to be with vocals that Del Rey experiments most with this time around. On 'Dealer' we hear both excruciating cries of "I don't wanna live" and also hear male vocals (Miles Kane)which aren't expected as there's no official feature. These strange little vocal inserts act as a welcome break from Del Rey's beautiful but admittedly monotonous vocals. On 'Living Legend', it's difficult to tell whether the sound in the bridge is itself a guitar or Del Rey's own voice but distorted beyond recognition. It's this kind of playful music-making that makes Blue Bannisters a captivating and mystifying project.
The issue with Chemtrails Across The Country Club was that it was forgettable, but Blue Bannisters certainly isn't. The storytelling combined with the experimentation places Blue Banisters up with some of Del Rey's best works. It's by no means a perfect album, but it's a riddle to be solved, and isn't that sometimes better?