Album Review: Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters
Mahnoor Imam reviews Lana Del Rey’s latest album Blue Banisters.
On her seventh major-label studio album, Lana Del Rey dives into modern post-pandemic life, a sharp turn from her classic theme of Old-Hollywood glamour of the noir era. Her appealing enigmatic energy bursts through her all too familiar lyricism that listeners have come to expect from her.
We witness the happiness of young women frolicking in summer dresses without their masks on and struggling to fit in their clothes in Black Bathing Suit: “The only thing that still fits me is this black bathing suit”. Although relatable, Blue Banisters is a multifaceted album, with themes from strained familial relationships to a nod to the glory of being single in Violets for Roses: “And God knows the only mistake that a man can make is tryna make a woman change and trade her violets for roses”. In a confessional, simple piano ballad she croons: “Ever since I fell out of love with you, I fell back in love with me”. The closing tracks Cherry Blossom and Sweet Carolina are simple, sweet piano ballads, composed of nothing but dreamy vocals, reminiscent of the tones of summer sprawled through the album.
“Del Rey’s seamless storytelling abilities are once again illustrated”
Lana approaches a newer sense of post-Trump America, far from the nostalgic retro Americana themes she used to explore, instead referring to a fatalistic America crowded with the pandemic, wildfires, and the threat of looming nuclear wars: “If this is the end / I want a boyfriend” she sings on Black Bathing Suit. If You Lie Down With Me experiments with a sax bridge and soft, harmonising vocal layers textured through the song. The compressed, echoed-out twangs of the guitar rest in the background, adding the familiar, dreamy pop quality that is usually attached to Del Rey’s discography.
Familiar names include Rick Nowels and Jack Antonoff as the producers of this album which comes to somewhat of a disappointment. Compared to previous albums like Lust for Life or Honeymoon, the music production behind Blue Banisters is underwhelming. Filled with simple piano compositions rather than the theatrical and orchestral strings or jazzy, Great Gatsby-style vocal harmonies that were consistent in Lana’s discography, this album is seemingly lacking. However, Del Rey’s seamless storytelling abilities are once again illustrated through her profound and poetic lyrics and alluring vocal capability.
Lacking in collaborations with other artists as compared to previous albums, Del Rey’s most important collaboration is with Miles Kane on Dealer. Arguably, the most sonically experimental, it comes from the scrapped collaborative album with ‘The Last Shadow Puppets’. Originally planned to be on Norman F***ing Rockwell, its companion song, Thunder is finally released on the new record. Dealer enters into the race for ‘Sad Girl Autumn’ – a morose, electrically charged song with high pitched femme-fatale style wails powering through the chorus. This song shows off Del Rey’s vocal range, sounding similar to her Honeymoon-era warm-toned jazz vocals. The album reaches its emotional peak with the omen of doomed relationships and a sense of self-resolved destruction alive in the lyricism. A walk down memory lane, the bridge reminds listeners of her pre-Born to Die ‘Lana Del Rey’ babydoll persona with its full reverbed falsetto vocals.
“the music production behind Blue Banisters is underwhelming.”
Thunder adds soft, breathy vocals with high-powered harmonies in the background, a nod to her Ultraviolence days, with high-pitched falsetto tones and textured vocal layers. Jumping forward to Nectar of the Gods, this track winks at a Laurel Canyon era Joni Mitchell with vocals and lyrics assisted by slow guitar strums, following on from her folk album Chemtrails Over the Country Club. Both these tracks revisit previous vocal aesthetics Del Rey has explored, presenting Blue Banisters as a Lana-inspired Hall of Fame.
If you feel nostalgia for Ultraviolence, a prominent album from the early days of her legacy, it’s because several tracks: Living Legend and Cherry Blossom are unreleased tracks that circulated around her YouTube fanbase for years.
This unbalanced album isn’t as sonically cohesive as previous albums, with Lana adding several layers that explore all of her past eras. However, Blue Banisters still manages to be an evolutionary album, expanding off of Lana’s previous qualities and building onto newer, relevant themes. Despite years of feigning privacy, this album is the first to dip into her personal relationships and struggles such as gaining weight during the pandemic and “shopping at Target”. Once again, Lana del Rey has proven to be a timeless artist, crafting and expanding beyond her perceived persona and going above and beyond her listeners’ expectations.