Favorite Track: "Breaking Up Slowly" Least Favorite Track: "Chemtrails Over the Country Club"
Lana Del Rey has never gotten all around applause. Instead, she often finds herself adored in the eyes of most critics and the entire indie demographic, While as being ostracized by many in the snobbier parts of the music consumer community. Her blend of somber singer-songwriter-esque lyricism and tired, spacey indie-pop instrumentals does little for those looking for a tight, engaging experience from pop that one might find in a record like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion or Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia. All this to say, passivity has long been an issue in Lana’s music. Many of her tracks come off incredibly half-baked on albums that are meant to be romantically-profound artistic statements, and instead they go in one ear and out the other without engaging the listener whatsoever. Lana Del Rey has long been an offender of this principle. None of her albums offer any interesting ideas or staying power; instead she continues to pump out painfully bland indie-pop that employs the same tropes of sleepy instrumentals and wallowy, love-sick lyrics. Although her 2021 release, Chemtrails Over the Country Club, still follows many of the same tropes, it finds comfort within the confines of indie-pop melancholy and serves as the most interesting set of tracks that Lana has come up with in a long time.
The record begins with the risky “White Dress”, where Lana takes what may be her strangest vocal approach to date. The majority of the song is a pretty straightforward, albeit gorgeous, indie-pop track, but during the chorus, she sings in a magnificently strained whisper-falsetto, almost sounding like 645AR in the best way possible. The vocal approach evokes a lot of emotion and is quite a bold risk, which is something that Lana often tends to stray away from. The instrumental is bare, stripped back, and somewhat easy to get lost in, while Lana’s vocals are wonderfully produced and layered. This kind of instrumental is nothing new from Lana, but the vocal spin she puts on the track is both stunning and new, which makes one of the best tracks on the record.
Often on Chemtrails Over the Country Club, the highlights end up being the songs where Lana is completely stealing the show vocally, over the top of instrumentals that are nothing more than a simple bed of sonic bliss. On “Breaking Up Slowly”, Lana enlists the help of Nikki Lane for a Country/Americana tinged track over the top of simple, finger-plucked guitars. The result is a crushing song about the labors of slow and painful heartbreak, each singer telling their lover “I love you only, but it’s making me blue” before concluding the chorus with one saddening sentiment; “It’s hard to be lonely, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Unfortunately, sparing the aforementioned highlights and a few other tracks such as “‘For Free” and “Dance Till We Die”, the previous struggles of painfully passive music become this album’s downfall. The title track “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” may be the worst offender of the bunch, with Lana taking a painfully lackluster vocal approach. On the track, she finds a simple vocal riff and essentially sticks to it, dragging the song out for much longer than it is welcome. The instrumental is painfully bare, droning pianos and light bass filling up the mix while Lana riffs on the same chorus repeatedly. This ends up not being an isolated incident either, with both “Dark But Just A Game” and “Let Me Love You Like a Woman” being just as boring and repetitive. By themselves, the songs are tolerable, but they grate the experience of the record quite a bit. With Chemtrails Over the Country Club clocking in at a mere forty-five minutes, it lacks the space to include as many boring and lackluster moments as it does. This sentiment becomes increasingly disappointing when you find tracks as stunning as White Dress and Breaking Up Slowly present in the same body of work.
While not a bad outing from Lana, Chemtrails Over the Country Club is yet another record from the singer that could have used fine-tuning. The production is immaculate and the vocal performances are never offensively bad, but as mentioned earlier, it is hard to justify this album when it can barely hold the listener’s attention for half of its runtime. Some tracks are a step in the right direction, and some tracks feel like the same old tired indie-pop Lana has made a career off of. Across the board, the highlights of Chemtrails Over the Country Club outshine the duds, but it still feels like a middle-of-the-road record.