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The Beautiful Mundanity of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Banisters”

Roar writer Phoebe Smart on Lana Del Rey’s new album, “Blue Banisters”.

On the 22nd October 2021, Lana Del Rey released her eighth album, “Blue Banisters,” marking almost a decade since the release of her first album, “Born to Die”. As is typical of a Lana album, listeners can expect a melancholic subject matter, dreamy vocals and gorgeous imagery. Yet “Blue Banisters” possesses an intimacy, warmth and sense of maturity which I feel sets it apart from the rest of Lana’s discography.

Lana is an artist who has continued to fascinate me ever since her debut was released ten long years ago. Yes, at the ripe old age of eleven, I knew all of the words to “National Anthem” and “Off to the Races,” much to the horror of my primary school teachers. Something about Lana’s melancholic, glamorous, and sometimes morbid portrayal of womanhood has kept me coming back for more every time, and I am certainly not the only one – just days ago Lana was named “Artist of the Decade” by Variety, who praised her monumental influence on the pop industry.

In many ways, “Blue Banisters” can be viewed as a response to the criticism Del Rey has received throughout the years, such as accusations that she “glamorises abuse” in her music. Much of the album sees Lana looking inward, exploring her familial relationships and childhood in an attempt to explain her sometimes dark and problematic art. “Here’s the deal,” she declares, directly addressing her critics at the beginning of “Wildflower Wildfire, and proceeds to tell the story of her life, hinting at a tumultuous relationship with her mother, clinical depression, and drug use. At other times in the album, however, this confrontation of her critics is much more playful: “I’ll pray for ya,” she jests in “Arcadia,” “but you’ll need a miracle”.

Unlike much of Del Rey’s body of work, which invokes visions of Gatsby-esque escapades in New York and L.A, “Blue Banisters” sees Lana “smoking by the pool” with her sister, being danced around the living room by a boyfriend, and in the parking lot of Target. Lana finds euphoria in the smallest of moments on the album, such as seeing young girls “with their masks off” and the “bookstore doors opening,” signalling the end of quarantine. (Only Lana Del Rey can make “Zoom calls” and “Quarantine” sound glamourous.) The album seems to reflect a newfound maturity and desire for a life of simplicity. The mundane subject matter of the album also reflects the current pandemic, which in 2020 left us all similarly bound to domesticity. Like the best of poets, Lana demonstrates her ability to effortlessly transform the mundane into art.

The production of the album is also stripped back, miles away from albums like  “Born to Die” and “Honeymoon”. Lana’s voice – which has aged like fine wine – has barely been touched post-recording, which I think adds to the sense of overall authenticity of the album.

While most of her previous albums have focused on her romantic relationships, “Blue Banisters,” while still exploring romance, also branches out into many different themes, such as childhood innocence, family and female solidarity. I would argue that “Blue Banisters” is Lana’s most intimate and vulnerable album yet; my personal favourite song, “Sweet Carolina,” is dedicated to Lana’s pregnant sister, Chuck. (You will need tissues at hand when listening to this one).

Since the release of “Norman F****** Rockwell!,” we have seen Lana trade her “poppy” lyrics for more articulate poetry. “Blue Banisters” only further demonstrates her desire to be viewed as a serious poet. The song “Arcadia,” a love letter to the city of L.A, is particularly sophisticated lyrically.

The track “Dealer,” co-written and recorded with Miles Kane, is a collaboration made in Indie-Heaven. With a catchy yet melancholic hook, “Dealer” is a song which I suspect will be the most popular with casual listeners of the album.

Miles Kane, who features on the track, “Dealer”

Despite my obvious admiration for this album, it does have its pitfalls. Structurally and thematically, the album is not entirely cohesive, probably due to the fact that while many songs are new, many of them have been in Lana’s back pocket for years. Furthermore, the addition of the interlude, “The Trio,” featuring a trap style beat, is completely baffling within the context of the album.

Overall, “Blue Banisters” is a poetically ambitious project, demonstrating growth as both an artist and a person. Lana rarely disappoints, and although I may not always agree with all of the messaging in her music, she will always be, in my eyes, one of the most interesting characters and talented poets in our culture.

You can listen to “Blue Banisters” on Spotify.

Comparative Literature at Kings College London



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