Blue Banisters, is Lana’s 8th album and the second in less than 8 months. It was originally scheduled for July with three singles, “Textbook,” “Wildflower Wildfire,” and “Blue Banisters” being released back in May. After several changes, Lana pushed the album to October 22 and released “Arcadia” with a music video in September. Continuing her more subdued and authentic songwriting off of the excellent Norman Fucking Rockwell and Chemtrails Over the Country Club, this project bares Lana’s soul in a series of complex images and wildly indulgent songs.
Although largely cohesive as a project about love, heartbreak, and self-care, Blue Banisters becomes less concerted in the latter half with several songs, “Nectar of the Gods,” “Living Legend,” and “Cherry Blossom” being especially lack-luster. There is no shortage of excellent songs, however, with “Text Book” and “Wildflower Wildfire” being highlights. Overall, using themes of the loss of love, pressure from societal forces on women, and turbulent identity, Lana Del Rey pens an album that is comparable to her recent output, if slightly unwieldy.
Writing (8/10) At this point Lana is a veteran songwriter and it comes through in Blue Banisters. Even at its lowest points, this project is written superbly and there are several images and sets of wordplay that are astonishing. That said, some lyrics seem forced and some of the melodies and structures of songs lose momentum.
Production: (6/10) This area is where this album suffers. Although most of the tracks’ production is Lana del Rey’s signature combination of reverb and wash, several of them have parts (the beat in “Thunder”) or are entirely produced poorly or disjunctly. As one can imagine, production on a second album in less than 8 months would become secondary to meeting deadlines but you can certainly hear it.
Structure (7/10) As a series of ballads on the loss of love, pressure from societal forces on women, and turbulent identity in the face of heartbreak, Lana del Rey’s Blue Banisters is effective. True, there are some songs that don’t fit the mold well but these are few and far between. Where structure becomes a problem is in the length of the album. At an hour long, this project is a little unwieldy and doesn’t seem to move anywhere throughout like her previous two releases.
What I think: Although slightly unwieldy and indulgent, Lana del Rey’s Blue Banisters has as many high notes as its soaring vocals, showcasing tracks that poignantly wrestle with identity, care, and love-lost.
The Long Review –
Lana Del Rey hasn’t changed; she’s just become better at creating music that’s actually her. The ultra-dramatic musings of her early albums Born to Die and Ultraviolence used American imagery and comfortably-numb heartbreak tales to effect deep feelings but they were rather raw and unsure of their identity. With albums like Honeymoon and Lust for Life, Lana pushed her original vibe further but it wasn’t until Norman Fucking Rockwell that Lana fully realized her musical voice. NFR was one of the best albums of 2019 and easily her best album to that date. The production was awash with reverb and complemented her soaring vocals, especially on songs like “how to disappear.” Her songwriting was a series of passive revelations that struck deep into the heart of American decadence and disaffection as well as her personal journey through high society (see “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have” and “Doin’ Time”). All in all, NFR set hopes immensely high for her 2021 album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club. To our surprise, Lana took the subdued acoustic sound of NFR and went further to great effect. With references to her previous works, Lana painted a poignant autobiography which dug into her feelings of rootlessness over a backdrop of the wide-open America heartland.
This newest album, Blue Banisters, is Lana’s 8th album and the second in less than 8 months. It was originally scheduled for July with three singles, “Textbook,” “Wildflower Wildfire,” and “Blue Banisters” being released back in May. After several changes, Lana pushed the album to October 22 and released “Arcadia” with a music video in September.
The opening section of “Text Book” uses hints of Amy Winehouse over a slow and simple bass-line. With an effective change of tempo, the song moves into a soft-rock chorus. While the first change of speed is seamless, Lana shifts the tempo again a little jarringly partway through the chorus and again back to the verse. By changing tempos so frequently, the listener never settles even though the song is lengthy. Also, the indulgent songwriting underlines the lyrics about her father and an idealized male love-interest who, true to form, remains a distant and nostalgic unattainable.
The title track, “Blue Banisters,” continues to wrestle with the pain of growing up, wanting real love, and the conflict between moving on, or not, in the absence of someone you care for. Lyrically, this is achieved through a complex metaphor of banisters and sets of colors, of which blue is an understandably common theme throughout this project. Musically, this song hearkens to the production of Chemtrails with the same soft-edged production and melancholic piano accompaniment.
The lusher and thicker musical feel of “Arcadia” compares the singer to the city of LA and uses landmarks and highrises as imagery for allusions to a relationship and America at large. This type of lyrical referencing is classic Lana but here she takes it further by physically embodying the city and America.
With a complete departure from the previous material “Interlude – The Trio” provides spaghetti-western horns by the late Ennio Morricone over a trap beat. Its unclear why this is included and it is a little too brief and shocking to blend at all. Considering that the rest of the album is seamless in its sound palette this seems out of place.
“Black Bathing Suit” begins with an eerie playground melody but soon reverts back to the reverb-heavy piano and once-per-bar chording of previous tracks. What makes this track stand out, other than another clever use of tempo change, is the purposefully raw and “unmusical” outro that jeers the male-centric world that makes her only “fit the black bathing suit.”
After the relatively unexciting ballad about trying to stay in love with someone who is not (“If You Lie Down With Me”), “Beautiful” builds on the central image of the album by “turning blue into something beautiful.” The smattering of Phillip Glass-like piano is enchanting and maintains the momentum of the track through a slightly lack-luster back half.
After several tracks wrestling with the expectations of men and the male gaze, Lana turns to inner strength in “Violets to Roses:” “God knows that the only mistake a man can make is tryna make a woman change and trader her violets for roses.” This song is in stark contrast with the next track, “Dealer,” which employs Miles Kanes’ feature and raw vocals in a bleak song about addiction, to substances and a relationship. These two songs right next to each other may appear contradictory but that may well be the point; the healing process and relationships both fluctuate dramatically. This is also classic thematic material for Lana.
By way of a whispering string line, “Thunder” uses textures from the previous tracks to a new effect. The chorus uses similar melodic motif, mixing, and string lines to that of Arcade Fires Suburbs (minus the splashy percussion) to great effect, providing one of the more catchy and poppy songs on this album. Thematically and lyrically, however, this track seems a little out of place, it doesn’t fit into any of the overtones of the album and the sound is too energetic especially since its right after the immensely disheartening “Dealer.” Its easy to appreciate how well-written this track is but its place on the project is less clear.
“Wildflower Wildfire,” on the other hand, is poignant and in-line with the central themes of the album. The line “I wouldn’t know what hot fire was. Hot fire…” into the chorus is enchanting and showcases Lana’s vocals at her best. The metaphor of a flaming flower is vibrant and effective throughout. There are a few trite lines, however, for example “I live on sheer willpower” (as a rhyme to wildflower), and the drum line on the back half of the track is poorly mixed. All in all, though, this is one of the best songs on the album.
What to say about these last four tracks? “Nectar of the Gods” abandons the washy mixing of all the previous tracks for too-clear guitar acoustics that are weirdly mixed. Although it connects thematically this track may have been better served on Chemtrails or an expanded version of the previous album. “Living Legend” likewise features more guitar and slightly odd mixing (maybe “different” is the better descriptor). There’s nothing particularly exciting about this track, it’s well-written but seems to lose direction partway through as a tribute track or love song. Also, the doctored vocals in the outro are just not good. “Cherry Blossom” features a simple piano accompaniment like many of the tracks but its too loud and too clear, almost like its recorded on a different instrument or in a different space than the other tracks. There is nothing wrong with this song’s writing, it just comes across as uninspired when compared to the first 11 tracks. These three tracks, all have something in common that makes them different from previous tracks, they feature the production of Barrie James O’Neill. O’Neill was one of the frontmen for the Scottish rock band Kassidy and has very few production creds. Although the mixing on the tracks he produces is not atrocious it doesn’t blend with other tracks on the album and comes off awry.
photocreds @lanadelrey, edited Oct. 26, 2021.