Lana Del Rey's "Chemtrails Over The Country Club" has been released.
It's yet another hazy, escapist offering from a star who is known for her nostalgic — and sometimes regressive — portraits of American lore. Few musicians have woven so many American symbols into their music, but that's always been a part of Del Rey's modus operandi. From Jesus to Elvis, her music was always a tribute to something or someone located out of reach but made immortal by mythology and fame.
The same could be said of "Chemtrails Over The Country Club," an album that's relatively sparse and scaled-down in comparison to her ambitious release from last year, Norman F**king Rockwell. Here, she takes us to the middle of the country on a kind of twisted, sleepy American road trip, speeding from Tulsa to Florida as she tries to escape Los Angeles and the trappings of stardom.
Middle America is her canvas here, and she uses it as a canvas for her characteristic blend of fiction and personal narrative. On the first track, "White Dress," she sings in a broken whisper above a lush Jack Antonoff backdrop, telling the story of how she misses the days when she was 19 and waitressing in Florida.
Lana Del Rey - White Dress (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Her voice is so breathy that it splinters into itself at times, and it's sometimes painful to listen to. But the message is clear — even though she's actualized her dreams, life hasn't been what she thought it would be, and she longs for simpler times.
Things get more fictional and blurry as she moves away from the past and towards an imagined suburban future in the middle of the country. On the slightly unnerving "Tulsa Jesus Freak," she begs: "You should stay real close to Jesus / Keep that bottle at your hand, my man / Find your way back to my bed again / Sing me like a Bible hymn / We should go back to Arkansas."
Lana Del Rey - Tulsa Jesus Freak (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
Del Rey doesn't live in Arkansas, for all we know, but it doesn't matter. She's playing the part, mixing Jesus worship for the love of her beer-swinging man.
One could make the argument that the song contains flickers of what might be called the cliched stereotypes of Trump's America — ranches, Bibles, beer and gin, a desire to return to bygone eras. But maybe it's better to say that the album is simply, lyrically American, filled with almost Jungian archetypes of what white suburban America is imagined to be.
Del Rey has always been a chronicler of the subconscious, bringing taboo desires from the deeps straight to the surface of her songs. Here, she blends romanticized Americana with the darkness and desire for annihilation that lurks underneath it. She longs for old-timey domesticity with a man whom she has to persuade to come back to her and who, in all likelihood, is long gone.
The desire to escape — to run away from fame and Hollywood — reigns supreme here, as it always has for Del Rey. Here, she identifies her escape route as what seems to be a quieter, drunker existence on a ranch. Del Rey, as far as we know, doesn't actually drink, but she does sing about drinking a lot. She finds escape in dreaming of alcohol, in pink MDMA pills, and in other vistas.
"Yosemite" is one of the track's folkier, more psychedelic offerings, and it also finds Del Rey unusually content with herself and her approach to fame.
Lana Del Rey - Yosemite (Official Audio) www.youtube.com
"We did it for the right reasons / We did it for fun, we did it for free," she sings, referencing the song's final track. "When I was young till eternity / I'll do it for the right reasons / Withstanding all the time, changes and seasons." It's hard to know whether she's just comforting herself or if she's actually finally found some peace in the California woods; but here, at last, there are whispers of peace in the wildness.
Moments of contentment are also found with her girlfriends, real and imagined, whom she shouts out on "Dance Till We Die" — Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Stevie Nicks and Courtney Love are all guests at her imagined dance party on some distant ranch.
One would imagine she's also singing about the group of women she featured on the album's cover (along with a much-maligned, since-deleted comment praising herself for their diversity).
This has been a year of high-profile media mistakes alongside intense critical acclaim for Del Rey, who has always provoked loathing and horror from her audience alongside cultish worship. From mesh masks to ill-advised notes-app revelations that criticized a slate of mostly women of color for being overly sexual, her media mishaps indicate the kind of subconscious racism that plagues most white Americans, even those who try to be anti-racist.
But in her music, she's general and personal enough to circumvent the issues with her public persona as she slides into her usual dream world of desire and layered, mythologized observations on the world around her. Take the phrase "chemtrails over the country club," which both glorifies the country club lifestyle while hinting at its eerie flaws.
Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
Maybe here these flaws are the trappings of Hollywood itself, or even the ills of capitalism, which she laments on her cover of Joni Mitchell's "For Free."
The song describes a famous musician encountering a clarinet player on the street, whom is, of course, playing for free and, the narrator feels, is more pure for it, perhaps more true to the soul of art. As she does with the the waitress she once was and with the landscapes and iconography of suburban Middle America, Del Rey is looking to the past for answers that — like clouds above a country club— have long slipped away.
Lana Del Rey - For Free (Official Audio) ft. Zella Day & Weyes Blood www.youtube.com
If you believe the conspiracy theories about chemtrails, the residual clouds we see in the air after planes go by are actually government-issued poison that brainwashes the masses, lingering in the brain long after the sky is pure blue again.
While fame is a losing game, so is running away from it. Never are those contradictions made more apparent than on "Wild At Heart," where Del Rey dreams of escaping a burning LA for an anonymous bar.
"You're killing me, Joe," she says, Joe perhaps being a manifestation of Los Angeles or a typically absent man. But then: "Even in the worst of times / You saw the best of me." She imagines running from the flames of fame, being pursued by paparazzi like Princess Diana, but she comforts herself by telling herself, "I'm not a star." It's a lie, but in a world of chemtrails and deepfakes and nostalgia for nonexistent pasts, what isn't?