Let’s get it out of the way: Lana Del Rey is a controversial figure. She’s not one to abide by the implicit social media code, openly sharing her opinions without a care for who disagrees. For a while now, it has seemed like there are two distinct Lanas: the politically incorrect starlet and the delicately acute wordsmith, with no forthcoming assimilation of the two. And though Lana may not reach the zenith she claimed with 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell again, she effortlessly blends her “no fucks given” personality with impeccable songwriting into an album that is just as individualistic as it is cathartic.
After releasing the folky, Americana-inspired Chemtrails Over the Country Club earlier this year, Del Rey announced she would release another album called Rock Candy Sweet on July 1st. The album never came, but she instead delivered three singles in late May which sported the same PicsArtTM-edited selfie as the cover, much to the public’s amusement. After listening to Blue Banisters, her choice of singles makes little sense. They reinforced Lana’s stature as a stunning piano penman and balladeer but failed to evoke excitement for her new album rollout. The last single, “Arcadia,” followed suit with exceptional songwriting and melodic composition but nonetheless seemed like more of the same. But now, after the release of her eighth studio album, Lana leaves us contemplating her stunning body of work as she resigns to her scenic Southern California abode.
The album opens with one of the earlier singles, “Text Book,” which reflects her past heartbreak and newfound self-love with drums and guitars carrying a country flair. Her introspection begins with the lyric, “And there you were with shinin’ stars standin’ blue with open arms.” Her usage of American imagery and the color blue is a running symbol throughout her discography. The title track bears the heart of the album and paints the story of Del Rey’s life. Using the color blue as a symbol for vulnerability and intimacy, she sings of a lover who would “give me children, take away my pain, and paint my banisters blue.” At the end of the story, her lover fails to return, but her sisters have painted her banisters green, catalyzing her rebirth and highlighting her simultaneous delicacy and resilience with support from her family and friends.
The subsequent track, “Arcadia,” reveals Del Rey’s acceptance of her media persona and all of the criticism she faces as she belts, “They built me up three hundred feet tall just to tear me down / So I’m leavin’ with nothing but laughter, and this town.” Standout track “Black Bathing Suit” sets itself apart from her piano ballads with sporadic rock elements in startling choruses that contrast perfectly with the softly-sung verses. Portraying her struggles with quarantine and loneliness, she sings of wanting—and still deserving—to be loved despite her baggage and struggles in past relationships.
Tracks like “If You Lie Down With Me” and “Dealer” explore jazz-inspired instrumentation; the former features a saxophone breakdown, and the latter includes a downtempo hip-hop beat and warbling atmosphere. “Dealer” especially stands out as Lana belts her heartbreak with deafening emotion. This experimentation continues in tracks like “Living Legend,” where she distorts her climactic vocal cries to sound like a guitar riff as she confesses her love for the “living legend” who can make her fall to her knees.
With orchestral flourishes similar to Angel Olsen’s 2019 All Mirrors embedded throughout the album, Blue Banisters is one of Lana’s most cinematic works to date. With the previously unreleased track “Thunder,” she weaves these orchestral flourishes together with soft rock elements, which serve as a fitting complement to a song about a man who sets her “ablaze” with excitement and temptation.
Lana is the most vulnerable she’s ever been in this album, especially with “Wildflower Wildfire.” The track puts a light on the domestic abuse she suffered throughout her upbringing and how it formed her art through lyrics like, “My father never stepped in when his wife would rage at me / So I ended up awkward but sweet / Later then hospitals, stand still on my feet / Comfortably numb, but with lithium came poetry.” She was told not to be independent or “out of control,” but as the song audibly falls apart into static, she poignantly conveys the blooming of her wildflower after the raging wildfire.
Though Del Rey explores these new territories with grace and gusto, she always comes back to her homestead realm of piano ballads. Similar to the track “Beautiful” earlier in the album, “Sweet Carolina” serves as a stunning closer to the album, with both songs exploring themes of love, albeit for different kinds of relationships. “Sweet Carolina” is devoted to her love for her sisters, but it also ends the album with some of her sharpest songwriting. “You name your babe Lilac Heaven / After your iPhone 11 / “Crypto forever,” screams your stupid boyfriend / Fuck you, Kevin,” she croons in an angelic falsetto while criticizing late-capitalist megalomania and brainwashed LA socialites.
Completely in charge of her vision in Blue Banisters, Lana taps into her emotions fully and refuses to sacrifice storytelling for a catchy pop hook. She stitches together complex melodies and instrumentals that give her album gravitas. While some may say that Del Rey has always worn her heart on her sleeve and that Banisters offers nothing new, her unabashed effort to share her “blues” reveals another layer of her nuanced persona. Once again, she proves her confidence in her craft with a breathtaking invitation to relinquish who she was before and understand who she is now.