Lana Del Rey perfects her sound on ‘NFR!’

Her latest effort is not only her best, but one of the best albums of the decade

Elliot Armitage, A&E Editor
October 25, 2019

It isn’t Lana Del Rey, but a lonely piano that introduces “Norman F—ing Rockwell!” The sparse, melancholy mood is attention grabbing, and Del Rey’s voice drifts in a few moments later, lamenting her “man-child” who she nearly slipped up and confessed love to. She settles into a mood similar to her other efforts: wishful, brooding, and dangerously feminine.

However, it’s clear simply from the careful composition and her quieter singing that Del Rey has matured, not afraid to be just as personal and introspective as she is powerful. On “NFR!,” she lifts the veil higher than before, and she solidifies her present status as a pop culture icon — and her legacy as an all-time songwriting great.

Lana Del Rey is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s six albums into her career. Her 2012 major label debut “Born To Die” has sold 1.5 million copies. The huge, confident songs on that record were meshed with a sadness in her lyrics that resonated with young women in a way few artists had in recent decades.

Del Rey’s bright red lipstick and hollywood pin-up hair established a character with a foot in two worlds, stuck in the monotonous stability of the 50s but seeped in the irony and depression of today. Now, seven years later, Del Rey hasn’t remodeled her character and music, but rather streamlined it.

“NFR!” starts off with her three best songs to date. The title track’s opening piano is beautiful, but the bubbling harps that introduce the first chorus are intoxicating. “Mariners Apartment Complex” sounds like a Joni Mitchell song with a serene modern sadness layered over it, and Del Rey’s triumphant chorus of “I’m your man” feels just as commanding as Neil Young’s most powerful songs.

“Venice B—-,” however, is a whole other psychedelic, dreamy behemoth. Starting off as an acoustic ballad, the second chorus is overwhelmed by distorted guitars and a cloud of dreamy vocals. Just three minutes in the storm relents, and catharsis gives way to six minutes of strings, guitars, keyboards and all manner of sounds precipitating as the song swirls upwards.

“Venice B—-” sounds like Del Rey finally recognizing and then unleashing all of the emotions she’s been romanticizing her whole career; few songs this decade can match its gentle intensity.

While Del Rey’s lyrics have always been submerged in strong emotions, “NFR!” goes beyond that. The production on “NFR!” is just as emotive as Del Rey —“super producer” Jack Antonoff co-wrote and co-produced nearly every song, and it pays off in a big way.

After “Doin’ Time,” a joyously poppy cover of Sublime, Del Rey shifts to a more lonely, sparse, and isolated mood. Most of the last two-thirds of the record is quiet and mournful, and with a few notable exceptions, sounds very similar to past Del Rey efforts with more sparse instrumentation. “The Greatest” deviates from traditional pop song composition as Del Rey slowly fades away over the last half of the track, becoming quieter and quieter and losing her grip on being “the greatest.”

Del Rey seems to sink deeper and deeper into her disillusionment with California and her general sadness through tracks six to 13, but “NFR!” ends on a surprisingly hopeful note. The majority of “Hope Is A Dangerous Thing For A Woman Like Me To Have- But I Have It” is similarly downtempo, as Del Rey leaves off “but I have it” from every chorus except the last. When Del Rey ends with her declaration of hope, it feels like she’s finally escaping the beachfront melancholy she nearly resigned herself to for the last hour.

It also feels like a turning point in Del Rey’s career. She’s been caught in that beachfront melancholy for her whole career. She’s already announced a possible next album, “White Hot Forever,” and because of her hopeful ending and the moments of psychedelia on “NFR!,” Del Rey has laid the groundwork for even further artistic growth in the future.

Despite what lies ahead, “NFR!” is its own masterpiece. It draws inspiration from decades of American music but is emotionally grounded in the present day. If you’re like me, and have always considered Lana Del Rey’s music to be just a soundtrack for sad middle schoolers, give “NFR!” a try. There’s so much more depth to what Del Rey puts down on the record ­— the kind of depth that ensures “NFR!” will resonate with generations to come.

Norman F—-ing Rockwell (2019)

5 stars