Lana Del Rey – Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Released March 19th, 2021 on Interscope Records and Polydor Records
Let me say this at the outset: Chemtrails Over The Country Club is not a country record. It is very much a Lana Del Rey record, and on album #2 of her collaboration with super-producer Jack Antonoff (Taylor Swift, Lorde), it is one that centers her voice absolutely, to the point where you can never really remember much of the background instrumentation. It’s there to hold up the singer, no more and no less. With that said, however, it’s a record haunted by the ghost of Tammy Wynette. This is at times overt: “Breaking Up Slowly” is explicitly about the 70s country singer and her difficult marriage to country legend George Jones. Usually it’s much more subtle, however. This is a record that has soured on it’s L.A. home and, like so many other jaded L.A. girls with Tammy Wynette records under their arms, is looking outward into that great wider America. She is explicit about this on “Let Me Love You Like A Woman”, where she opens it with “I come from a small town, how ’bout you? / I only mention it ’cause I’m ready to leave LA.” “Dark But Just A Game” returns to this theme, expanding on the dark side of the star-making machine of Los Angeles and expressing a deep weariness with it’s obsessions. Elsewhere she visits Oklahoma (“Tulsa Jesus Freak”, where she balances her devout man with his love of the drink) and Nebraska (“Not All Who Wander Are Lost”, where the gin-God duality returns pointedly). It’s not all wanderlust and the demons of a drink-addled marriage, though; “Wild At Heart” is a hit 70s country single in all but music, and “Yosemite” may as well be called “Staying Together Slowly.” “Dance ‘Til We Die” circles back into L.A. with a much more hopeful note, referencing her contacts with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Nicks and reveling in her elevation into a pantheon of legendary L.A. folkie women stars. This latter vibe is driven home by the closing track, a cover of Mitchell’s “For Free” (whose title is echoed in the refrain of “Dance ‘Til We Die”) that pairs her with indie-art songstress Weyes Blood and fellow L.A. singer Zella Day.
The elephant in the room, of course, is 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell!, an album that seemed to finally chase away the ghosts of insincerity and inauthenticity that lingered over her career from the beginning. Chemtrails Over The Country Club is a more subdued record than that one, and it largely does away with the dramatic, swelling gestures that she used on many of her best moments like “Born To Die” or “Video Games.” There’s nothing like “Venice Bitch”, the nearly ten-minute folk-inflected track that is for me the highlight of her last album, or “The Greatest”, a big classic rock gesture that runs a close second. These are quieter songs, where the arrangements center her voice and rise and fall on where it goes. When the surprisingly funky sax break comes near the end of “Dance ‘Til We Die”, it is made all the more striking by the fact that there is nothing like it on the album before that point. Despite the rather monochromatic tone, however, there is a strong variety once you scratch the surface. She doesn’t need the big gestures to make these songs stand on their own; this is the first record in her discography where everything else takes a backseat and it still manages to work. It’s a pop record, yes, first and foremost, but it’s one where the artist’s vision is carried through intact.