Review of “Chemtrails Over the Country Club”


Tomas Curcio, Staff Writer

On Mar. 19, Lana Del Rey released her seventh album, “Chemtrails over the Country Club.” This newest release comes two years after her previous album, NFR, an album that I found much more engaging, diverse and interesting than her previous albums.

Del Ray’s newest album returns to the straightforward piano and guitar compositions of her work before NFR, but in a purposeful and intelligent way, evoking nostalgia and creating a different, more somber tone for the album. The album largely deals with these themes of nostalgia, as Del Ray spends much of the album reminiscing on her career and how she has matured. 

Themes of maturity remain prevalent throughout the album, with tracks that focus on growing as an individual through finding oneself, traveling and improving or discarding relationships. 

The album’s cover art also evokes this idea of nostalgia. The art depicts Del Ray, dressed opulently, among her friends in a black and white photograph, a callback to a better time.

The album begins with the track “White Dress,” the most engaging song off the album. In the song, Del Ray progresses from her usual whisper-voice vocals into a raspy falsetto, which complements the track. This different vocal approach starts off her newest album in an interesting way, but this promising experimentation disappointingly does not extend much further than this track.

“White Dress” also exemplifies the reflective nature that the album takes on, as Del Ray describes having sang to “the men in music business conference” at the young age of 19 and having “felt seen.” With this track,  Del Ray attacks the indoctrination of young girls into the music industry, and how these men prey off the bright-eyed and naïve nature of these girls to gain money from their image. 

The succeeding title song “Chemtrails over the Country Club” remains another highlight of the album. The song reflects her nostalgia for a prestigious life of jewels, country clubs, sports cars and running free and contrasts that to the necessary maturing during life, which her melancholic tone makes evident. The song comes to the listener as a distant memory that Del Ray has of her life before fame and responsibilities. While her descriptions of her lavish lifestyle may come off as pompous, she presents the world of her childhood as one where worries were distant, making the reality of life hit that much harder.

After this track, the album takes a bit of a lull with “Tulsa Jesus Freak” and “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” which both sound more like typical Del Ray affair, her whispery voice over simple compositions with little variety. Tracks like these feel boring and uninteresting, given her extensive catalog with many songs that sound like these. However, the track “Wild At Heart” punches through to break this lull.

“Wild At Heart” describes a fun and crazy relationship between her and her partner that calls back to the fun and fanciful nature of adolescence. The song includes a soaring chorus that really brings the track together, and contrasts with the previous two.

After “Wild At Heart” comes “Dark But Just a Game,” an interesting track that focuses on how certain celebrities change themselves due to stardom, but how she prefers to stay true to herself as a person. The artist peppers the song with verses underlaid with heavy bass that  remind of Lorde’s 2013 album “Pure Heroine,” a more dark and brooding album.

After “Dark But Just a Game,” there lies yet another lull in the songs, where “Not All Who Wander are Lost,” “Yosemite” and “Breaking Up Slowly” go by with little to them. Each song focuses on a different aspect of maturity, symbolizing that this second half of the album shows Del Ray’s maturity in contrast to the first half, which shows the naïve, young Del Ray. The tracks describe traveling, relationships changing over time and breaking up, all things people go through as they grow up. These songs just do not have the same standing power as the textured compositions and varied vocals of previous tracks.

After this second lull of the album, the song “Dance Till We Die” vivaciously enters. This song rings a nice climax for the album, with an interesting portion towards the end of the song. Throughout the track, Del Ray names legendary female folk singers such as Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Stevie Nicks, all women extremely well-known for their work. Del Ray views these women as her idols, and now that she has found herself up on the main stage alongside them, she has also found an ultimate maturity. 

But, while describing this ultimate maturity, she still has fun, the same kind of fun she had as a younger girl at her country club. She still has issues and responsibilities as a celebrity: “Troubled by my circumstance, burdened by the weight of fame,” but able to enjoy herself: “We keep dancin’, babe.” This shows a conclusion to Del Ray’s fears and worries of growing up, as she can maintain this balance between enjoyment and work.

This song comes as a remarkable and interesting close to the album. Del Ray further elevates the song through a jazzy section that pops up out of nowhere in the final third of the song, before returning to the usual slow tempo. This jazzy section leaves me wanting more of that from Del Ray due to her varied vocal delivery and the incredible instrumentation that backs it up. Tracks like these just make the rest of the album pale in comparison.

While “Dance Till We Die” comes as a climatic finish, the album’s narrative concludes through an epilogue, “For Free.” “For Free,” the final track of “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” is a cover of singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell’s song from her 1970 album “Ladies of the Canyon.” Both this Mitchell album and the song are near and dear to my heart. Joni Mitchell’s vocal delivery and poetry has always been some of my favorite of any artist, and to have Del Ray cover such an incredible song is quite a strange choice, especially for the closing track of her album. On this cover, Del Ray employs two extra vocalists, Zella Day and Weyes Blood. Two beautiful singers, but come too close to Del Ray’s own voice to really capture a new noise.

The incredible singers perform the track well, but it feels very similar to the original. This cover takes no creative liberties nor modify the song in any way other than focusing on allocating each singer their own verse. This cover pales in comparison to the original by Joni Mitchell because of the timeless nature of it and the charming little clarinet solo at the end that is missing from this new rendition. This track does nothing but make me want to listen to Mitchell’s rendition.

Despite that, the song does play a role in the overall story of this album. Del Ray has long looked up to musicians such as Joni Mitchell and now attempts to honor her legacy through a faithful cover of the track, in a way evoking Mitchell’s songwriting and vocal ability in herself. Del Ray’s maturity comes full-circle with this rendition, as she becomes Mitchell. 

The song choice is also well-done, as “For Free” is a song where Mitchell melachonlically describes an encounter with a man who plays beautiful music for free to all on street corners, while she is a woman of wealth due to her musical career. 

This divide between the reality of being a celebrity and the reality of being yourself becomes evident throughout “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” as Del Ray has struggled with maturing whilst in the public spotlight.

“Chemtrails over the Country Club” wavers throughout. While the album does not have any major dips in quality, it does stagnate at points, isolating the listener with Del Ray’s whisper-vocals and little other substance. However, Del Ray’s excellent writing throughout most of these tracks creates a full narrative through the track placement, really making an entire experience for the listener. 

Del Ray also has these incredible moments of varied vocal delivery and interesting instrumentation, such as in “White Dress” and “Dance Till We Die,” that really just leave me wanting more of that and missing the varied noises and production on NFR.

Del Ray’s “Chemtrails over the Country Club” comes as an eventful return that just leans too much to the nostalgic side, to the point where some songs just seem old and tired.