On the heels of her critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated 2019 album “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” Del Rey was poised to claim her spot on the alternative throne after years of controversy, only to bury herself with more polarizing behavior.
After providing her publicist with headache after headache — and a swerve into the world of poetry — Del Rey veered back into music with her new album “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” released March 19.
“Chemtrails” follows in the same vein of her previous album, featuring production by Jack Antonoff (who has become the resident pop producer for Del Rey’s peers Taylor Swift and Lorde).
The album is a slight decline from the career-defining “Norman Fucking Rockwell!,” retreading the immaculate ground with less freshness and more predictability. Even then, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” maintains Del Rey’s rise through its ethereal production and smooth vocals.
Del Rey channels her signature high-pitched, sleepy sound with opening track “White Dress.” As with a majority of her songs, the enunciation is a jumbled cursive signature on a crumpled-up receipt, but the sound nonetheless works.
“Down in Orlando, I was only 19 / Down at the ‘Men in Music’ business conference / I only mention it ‘cause it was such a scene / And I felt seen,” sings Del Rey in the self-referential track. She’s right at home singing about her dreamer youth with the old-fashioned, patriarchal flair Del Rey has sprinkled through her music since her 2012 debut.
“Breaking Up Slowly” breaks the monotony of her last two records with a folksy twang provided by co-writer and vocalist Nikki Lane. Del Rey’s vocals are infectious and harmonize beautifully with Lane’s. It’s a crisp, campfire track that hints at new terrain for Del Rey.
Channeling her inner coffee-shop performer, “Dark But Just a Game” radiates with its noir-influence. The sleek track is a suave evolution of previous Del Rey tracks, such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “Fuck it I love you.”
“We keep changing all the time / The best ones lost their minds / So I’m not gonna change, I’ll stay the same,” Del Rey proclaims, perhaps hinting that she feels little need to extinguish the fires she lit over the last year.
The lyrics ring true in a career as consistent as hers. Del Rey’s sound has always naturally evolved from album to album — a characteristic that has led critics to classify her music as too similar — but with these last two albums, Del Rey has glided in the right direction.
“Don’t even want what’s mine, much less the fame / It’s dark, but just a game,” is an honest lyric that emulates Del Rey’s career-expanding fight with fame. Through all the controversies, her resentment with fame has maintained.
“Chemtrails Over the Country Club” closes with the album’s only feature, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” with Zella Day and Weyes Blood. The transcendent song keeps up with the folkier sound, uplifting the tempo through the drawn-out endnotes.
A singer-songwriter herself, Del Rey is at home emulating Mitchell’s track. The piano ballad is a welcome closer to the album, harkening back to Del Rey’s earlier tradition of ending albums with a classic cover.
After a year of chaos, Del Rey’s familiar sounds should provide comfort for her fans. “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” endeared her to broader audiences, and “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” — much like Taylor Swift with her back-to-back albums “folklore” and “evermore” — is a justified victory lap.
Tracks such as “Wild at Heart” and “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” sound like they could’ve been included in multiple past Del Rey albums, but hey, if the sound ain’t broke. They’re pleasant, welcomed additions to her catalog, even if they don’t introduce much new.
That sums up the majority of the album. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” isn’t a major statement. It’s a peaceful, 45-minute journey down a familiar road (probably in Malibu). Del Rey can’t stay in this lane forever, but for now, she’s just riding.
“Chemtrails Over the Country Club” is available to stream on all major streaming services.