When you’re brought up with punk music, gritty British drama and the lyrics of Gallows’ Grey Britain, it can be hard to grasp what’s meant by the American Dream. Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck taught me a version I saw as men in suits using consumerism to fuel their greed and power problems – after all, for every man’s pursuit of the orgastic future, another dies in his pollution. But for Lana Del Rey, these authors present another kind of America: a mid 20th-century state of mind with house parties, updos and everlasting love. She searches for freedom and independence, a perfect forever where the good old days aren’t what you look back on but something you create now. Del Rey has done The Dream for years and Norman Fucking Rockwell! is her doing it best, but it’s also the next chapter of a discography that has seen her grow into an American songwriting hero. 

Often it’s been hard to see the real Lana amidst the personas; she’s the midnight seductress, the ethereal lover, the torn-apart girl. Lana never felt like a person but a classic character lost in time and her own dreams, the illusion upheld by her shy nature and social reclusiveness. However, everything seems to crack a little on Norman Fucking Rockwell!, allowing us to see the real within the fiction. 

It’s the interplay between her abilities as a songwriter and storyteller that separates this album from her others. Sure, she created the Lolita-inspired Carmen character on Born To Die and wrote her best song, ‘Love’ on Lust For Life, but Norman Fucking Rockwell! shows relentless consistency. Each song features both skills at maximum capacity: ‘Cinnamon Girl’ looks at the moral quandaries of love, ‘California’ extends it to a relationship lost in space and time, and ‘Venice Bitch’ reminisces about romance gone with the summer. Thematically, everything begins to tie together – Lana Del Rey has lost love, but she hasn’t lost hope. 

It soon becomes clear that the American Dream is no reality for Lana, but something to believe in when all goes awry. ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ sees Del Rey become a Plath-reading phantom of a woman. It’s pure poetry and shows her liberating herself, and as the many personas begin to break free, she becomes a Rolodex of characters: the wicked fighter, the scared girl, the siren. And amidst the strange melancholic chaos between lines, the real Elizabeth Woolridge Grant behind Lana is forced up for air.

Lana Del Rey has spent a decade capturing the superficials of the American Dream, but on this album, she defines it as a love you were in touching distance of bottling up and preserving forever. On Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Del Rey becomes as much the phantom as the Plath they’re reading, she’s the mournful soul and the classic genius. After a decade of refining the limitations of the American pop star, Lana Del Rey turns to the otherworldly plain of a Nick Cave or Joni Mitchell, a place where competition doesn’t exist, just contemporaries. 

  1. Lana Del Ray – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
  2. Chris Farren – Born Hot
  3. Proper. – I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better
  4. Pkew Pkew Pkew – Optimal Lifestyles
  5. White Reaper – You Deserve Love
  6. Puppy – The Goat
  7. Nervus – Tough Crowd
  8. Clairo – Immunity
  9. Her Name Is Calla – Animal Choir
  10. Martha – Love Keeps Kicking