When comparing “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” Lana Del Rey’s latest album, to her other records, the differences are almost as glaring as the similarities. The album cover, for one, is the first where the iconic singer-songwriter is not the sole subject in the foreground. Finding Del Rey in this album’s cover feels like playing a game of Where’s Waldo? But an admittedly easy version, as her radiant smile pulls you in. Still, it does have a somewhat familiar black and white — reminding us of her critically acclaimed 2014 album “Ultraviolence.”
Her beaming smile on the cover sets the tone for a much more untroubled album, by Del Rey’s standards. Her lyrics, though not as dark, still deal with bleak, somber themes, but the album’s sound as a whole feels brighter. In this way, it borrows from Del Rey’s first album, “Born to Die.” The two sound much different — “Born to Die” being more pop and hip-hop influenced than “Chemtrails” — but she feels free in both, troubled but free. “I’m on the run with you, my sweet love,” she sings in the title track.
In her subsequent albums — “Ultraviolence,” Honeymoon,” “Lust for Life” and, to an extent, “NFR!” — you can hear how trapped she is. Whether it’s drugs, an abusive relationship, etc., she had a problem she couldn’t deal with or get away from. She still has issues, but they feel manageable in “Chemtrails.”
Part of the freedom expressed in “Chemtrails” comes from the imagery of America—the picturesque dream, not the country— in songs like “Yosemite.” But she also communicates this feeling with her experimentation. For example, she uses autotune, which Del Rey has little to no experience with, in the “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” Or the lyrical risk in the chorus of the opening track “White Dress” — where she blurts out “Down at the men in Music Business Conference.”
Nostalgia is one of the most prevalent themes in the album. We can hear her long for the days when she wasn’t famous; a time where her every move wasn’t criticized by people on the internet; a time when she was truly free. “Thinking of a simpler time…. But I had it under control every time,” she sings in “White Dress.”
“Chemtrails” is also incredibly cohesive — a surprising discovery considering there is a Joni Mitchell cover, “For Free” featuring Zella Day and Weyes Blood, and a handful of songs were meant for past albums. The album has sections, but Del Rey seamlessly leads us from one track to the next. If you’re one to shuffle albums, avoid it on “Chemtrails.” Sure, every song is great on its own, but the artistic organization is part of it.
Del Rey has been a mainstay for years now, with this album being no exception. It is distinct without veering too far away from the sound fans continue to idolize. I suggest you put on a pair of headphones and let this album whisk you away to the American dream—Lanaland.