A mere seven months after her folkish, subtle and classic Jack Antonoff-produced album, “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” Lana Del Rey has returned with an introspective and daring 15-track affair, “Blue Banisters.”
“Blue Banisters” comes after a very in-character and hectic rollout and single-cycle for Del Rey — consisting of album name changes and postponements, controversy-earning artwork for the first three singles of the album and a blackout of all social media just before the album’s release.
However, controversy and criticism are no strangers to Del Rey and her music, and this album deserves the contrast of criticism: acclaim.
“Blue Banisters” features many fan-favorite tracks, which is an interesting title to give songs that have been released not even a month; however, these “fan-favorites” are tracks that have leaked and surfaced in the past years, which fans of Del Rey have begged to be released prior to “Blue Banisters.” Songs like “Living Legend,” “Cherry Blossom,” and “Thunder” have been available on services like Youtube and Soundcloud for years.
Its predecessor, “Chemtrails over the Country Club” or “Chemtrails,” follows the success of her 2019 critically acclaimed and Antonoff-produced Grammy Album of the Year nominee, “Norman F*****g Rockwell!” 2021’s “Chemtrails” tends to play it safe regarding what works for Del Rey and her music. While “Blue Banisters’” most two recent predecessors carry a similar and softer sound — as well as tone — her latest album is harder to process, filled with pandemic and political references, nods to previous relationships, and an overall much more complex piece of work.
“Blue Banisters” might lack an emphasized theme because of its tracklist — but more specifically the date in which each track was recorded. The album is filled with songs recorded in different eras, album cycles, and with different collaborators — some of which were originally featured on a scrapped joint album between Del Rey and the band The Last Shadow Puppets (see “Dealer” with Miles Kane.)
Knowing Del Rey and her deep, metaphoric subject matter, there clearly is a theme — a method to her madness. Whether it be a poignant reflection on her childhood and relationships with parents (album opener “Text Book,”) or finding vulnerability and solace in a lover (piano ballad “Cherry Blossom,”) or even a love letter to her future niece (“Sweet Carolina,” a song in which she co-wrote with her sister and father) Del Rey’s growth in songwriting and as a person is exhibited perfectly.
Del Rey reflecting on the current state of the world throughout this album adds to its many layers. Lyrics like “And if this is the end, I want a boyfriend/Someone to eat ice cream with or watch television” are sung on “Black Bathing Suit,” a song which seems to reference romance in the time of quarantine. Also lines like “There we were, screamin’, ‘Black Lives Matter’/In a crowd, by the Old Man River” in “Text Book” give the album a very current feeling overall, as it contains topics that the singer-songwriter type, like Del Rey, don’t often brush upon.
While she still sings about some of her previous and notorious subject matter — like being a self-proclaimed “bad girl” on songs like “Black Bathing Suit” — “Blue Banisters” is just a deeper dive into Del Rey’s new comfort, which is the world of softer piano ballads in a twisted singer-songwriter style.
“Blue Banisters” is by no means Del Rey’s best piece of work. It almost falls flat in areas where some of her previous albums tended to thrive — like the album’s overall aesthetic, message, or even cohesion throughout production. However, given that Del Rey and her music can still have so much variance in sound and theme yet still not take a drastic dip in quality, “Blue Banisters” deserves and owns its spot on her wide discography.
This will be Jackson Parks’ second year on ECHO staff, but he made several contributions while taking journalism class his sophomore year. He served as Junior Editor his first year on staff.