Whatever your opinion of Lana, no one can deny her impact. Exploding onto the scene to basically launch the entire sad indie girl genre, she created a phenomenon and then continued to abandon it at every step. Always a movement ahead, no one can truly keep up with her level of romanticism or reference as she’s shifted from Lolita, to 1920s art deco flappers to Easy Rider Americana and beyond. Pulling words from T.S. Eliot and borrowing beats from old school R&B, no one really does it like Lana, and even if you hate it, you can’t deny that. Always trendless, 'Blue Banisters' took it even further before it had even dropped, as Lana ditched the social media demands on a new music release. None of us knew if it would even happen, void of any virtual countdown, it was our first clue that 'Blue Banisters' is the latest Lana Del Rey side step away from what the industry would have her do.
A clear display of change, 'Blue Banisters' is the first album in three years to not be a Jack Antonoff project. Breaking free from the super-producer at a time when his sound threatens to become a uniform for soft-spoken singers, she’s back to doing whatever she wants. Merging everything that came before, Blue Banisters’ heavy nostalgia seems to meld the worlds Lana has been building in each past album. Opening with the dark ‘Textbook’, she returns to Honeymoon with her crooning vocals that scream a love for golden oldie, jazz standards. But four tracks in, ‘Interlude’ breaks through the glamour with an R&B beat, harking back to past A$AP collabs and Lana’s eclectic tastes. For anyone else, an album that moves between vintage ballads and distinctly modern elements would be jarring and wrong, but by her eighth record, Lana’s unique world is expected and recognisable now. Free from confines of genre or any demand to stay in one lane, it’s a world of borderless style, limitless aesthetic like Tumblr’s endless scroll.
Returning to elements of her earlier releases and rejecting the one-tone cage her latest albums were beginning to sound like, 'Blue Banisters' seems like a reclamation. Beyond her recent social media move, everything about its release placed the control in Lana’s hands. Pranking us with release dates only to give us nothing, making questionable cover art to visualise some of her most poetic tracks yet, cutting off every vein of communication to retreat into her art and hobbies, Lana has checked out of any part of the industry she hates, leaving us nothing to focus on but the album. And this seems like the album she always wanted to make. With all her old favourite references and sounds, features you’d never expect, like Miles Kane’s mod vocals on ‘Dealer’, and heavier poetry than we’ve ever heard, it’s gut-wrenching and sexy and effortless in its grandeur.
On ‘Nectar Of The Gods’, the clarity of Lana’s voice over a twangy guitar instantly takes me back to being 13 and desperately searching online to find some other unreleased demo. Pieced together from off-cuts of older albums, leaked demos and unfinished projects, 'Blue Banisters' seems to be the beautiful pieces that were left on the cutting room floor of other records, and even one abandoned collaboration project between Lana and The Last Shadow Puppets. Narrowed down to songs that she’s remained loyal to, the whole record feels like a big sigh, a huge outpouring of personal tracks or long running loves that she’s finally able to release right. And you can tell she’s been singing them forever, as ‘Cherry Blossom’ falls out of her mouth with so much ease, supported by a simple piano like she’s singing alone to an empty room or old school jazz basement, performing the same set she’s done for years. Making her strange twists and turns in tempo on tracks like ‘Black Bathing Suit’ feel like nothing, every element of 'Blue Banisters' is stamped with Lana’s mind as the instrumentation finally seems to follow her thought like a cosy nest for a complete vision no matter what it looks like.
And this time round, her vision seems to simply look like her. Touching on her regular topics and love and life, this record sees it all through her unique frame of fame. Penning some of her most brutal lyrics yet, I could honestly write a whole essay on the beauty of its title track and the heartbreak of the lyrics; "Most men don't want a woman / With a legacy, it's of age" / She said "You can't be a muse and be happy, too / You can't blacken the pages / with Russian poetry / And be happy" / And that scared me”. Tinging her typical American flag imagery with a darker hue, these feel like songs written by a woman that’s always dreamed of old Hollywood fame while slowly realising it doesn’t exist anymore. As one of her most through-and-through ballads, ‘Arcadia’ flows from a classically Lana-esque lyric ‘My body is a map of L.A.’, into a whole conversation about the ruin of a country she’s forever romanticised. Singing, ‘I'll pray for ya, but you'll need a miracle America’ as she wipes her social media and retreats, maybe we’re seeing a lifting of the veil that’s long cover her lyrics, slowly wiping them of fiction or any faux character as she no longer has to live up to some image online.
If there’s one criticism 'Blue Banisters' will draw, it’s that it’s the same old same old in its sonics. Playing the same chords and singing in her same tone, this might be one piano ballad too far for less lyrically-inclined listeners. But really I think that’s besides the point. Previously talking about herself as a writer first and a musician second, Lana becomes totally different when you realise she regards herself as a poet. Centring her words, her recognisable sound becomes simply a soundtrack to her world, only really demanding or needing any attention when she wants it to. Using musical climaxes as punctuation rather than a prop to hold her up, her words don’t need anything flouncy to make them beautiful. She could sing them acapella and her fans would still be spellbound.
Refreshingly hers, 'Blue Banisters' is a beautiful mix of old and new. Taking all the most captivating bits of her past catalogue, all the things that make her her, and the comforting recognisability of Lana’s world, the anticipated record is a gift for long running fans. Finally giving official recorded space to fan favourite demos and offcuts she couldn’t let go of, it feels like an album she’s been begging and waiting patiently to record right, and now she has the freedom and peace to do it.
Words: Lucy Harbron
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