Textbook Lana: Blue Banisters is sublime

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Lana Del Rey has released her new album, Blue Banisters, just seven months after her seventh record, Chemtrails over the Country Club.

With music dating back to 2011 since her major debut, folk and dream pop artist Lana has added another stellar album to her already sublime discography. Prancing into the 2010s with her hit song Video Games, she has amassed a large and loyal fanbase over the decade with her southern Californian-sounding gloom created by her old-fashioned songwriting paired with a voice of confident conviction.

Much like her 2014 album, Ultraviolence, her new record embodies this perfectly. Though with minimalist instrumentation, this album is teeming with sorrowful piano leads, heightened by its “blue” motif. Filled with romantic tragedies, social commentaries and Lana’s notoriously symphonic sound, Blue Banisters shows her pushing the envelope in this record produced by Zachary Dawes, Loren Humphrey and many more.

The song instantly propels us into Lana’s wonderland

The opening track, “Text Book”, was one of three singles released in May earlier this year, and for good reason. The song instantly propels us into Lana’s wonderland, reminding fans of her signature style. If you’ll pardon the pun, it is textbook Lana, taking us back to songs like “Mariners Apartment Complex”. The airy vocals in the background create a beautiful ambience, with the occasional drumstick tap and snare being the only sounds preventing us from being entranced in its serene embrace.

Title track “Blue Banisters”, like many tracks on this EP, wonderfully exemplifies the minimalist approach towards instrumentation, opting for a song dominated by Lana’s singing. With the vocals in the foreground, her talent shines through, gliding from quiet to loud along with a change in pitch – woven together simply through Lana’s immersive singing, proving her voice to be as good as her lyricism.

“Arcadia” was the final single to be released from this album, with us being graced by it back in September. Perhaps the most pristine sounding, and this album’s magnum-opus, this track has one of the most mesmerising choruses Lana has ever written, sounding almost like a 90s Celine Dion. This heart-wrenching love song might seem corny at first with its references to various car makes, but any ill feeling soon dissipates when the fitting violins and brass creep in.

the opening crows and high piano being a relieving breath of fresh air

Though the “Interlude” is not an actual song, it is quite displeasing that this track incorporates heavy bass alongside the initial beauty of the trumpets. It is almost laughable how out of place this sounds – not at all what you want to hear after “Arcadia”.

Luckily, “Black Bathing Suit” redeems this temporary break in immersion, with the opening crows and high piano being a relieving breath of fresh air. This song is teeming with harmonics, most notably the fierce, piercing layered vocals behind Lana singing “Black Bathing Suit”, which acts as a precursor to the striking “no one does it better”, delivered later in the song.

“If You Lie Down With Me” contains a monotonous piano in the verses; thankfully, all the energy went into the pre-chorus and chorus where Lana provides vocals so airy and serene you can almost feel them floating. This contradicts the next song, “Beautiful”, that begins with a soft, assertive piano sounding like rainfall, acting almost as pathetic fallacy for this seemingly sad song but ultimately showing that you can turn negativity into something “beautiful”.

The next track, “Violets for Roses”, is all about the lyrics – telling a great story of women’s empowerment. It is also a fantastic transition into the next song, “Dealer”, which features Miles Kane’s Alex Turner-like vocals in the verses, soon after mixing with Lana’s to crescendo into the chorus. Beginning with the piercing line “I don’t wanna live”, this chorus perhaps has Lana’s best vocals to date, aided only by the background percussion, really allowing her to hammer home with the punch her singing offers here.

This record is like a time capsule sent into the past

“Thunder” is another example of Lana’s brilliant storytelling skills, with this track telling of a two-faced man, referencing The Killers’ song “Mr Brightside” with brilliant conviction. The bridge is merely Lana showing off her vocal range with high notes reminiscent of Kate Bush.

“Wildflower Wildfire” is deserved of its spot as one of the album’s key singles. With its intoxicating chorus, it is undoubtedly one of the album’s “hottest” tracks. It flows seamlessly into “Nectar of the Gods”, featuring a lead guitar instead of piano, giving a nice, nectar-like feel (befitting of the name and a nice contrast to the blue theme). The verses hog the limelight here as Lana offers sweet vocals before shifting into falsetto with ease – with the only negative being it makes you envious of her talent.

An ode to Lana’s friend and mentor Jane Powers, “Living Legend” portrays this wonderfully in its lyrics. However, it sounds quite mundane except for the high-pitched guitar lick towards the end that you could initially mistake for Lana’s voice with their similarities in pitch and vibrato.

A personal favourite, “Cherry Blossom” is full of little crescendos that lead into bursts of passion, making for an exciting, unpredictable listen. The choruses each sound slightly different, with the second containing a rogue piano bass note that fills it with colour and reminds us of Lana’s spontaneity.

The record’s closer, “Sweet Caroline”, starts similarly to Sia’s “Snowman”, a true precursor of this song being great. The chorus vocals are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell with her crystal-clear head voice, and it’s not hard to see this track being on her Blue album; it is undoubtedly a point of inspiration for Lana here.

Unlike her usual 20th-century tone, Blue Banisters shows Lana sitting in the modern era, addressing issues like COVID-19 and numerous pop culture references, all under the guise of her familiar 1900s style. This record is like a time capsule sent into the past, and Lana is the storyteller for the 1950s citizens we listeners take the role of. As opposed to Lana’s previous albums, Blue Banisters‘ lack of instrumentation takes Lana’s strong points to a new level: her romantic and drama-filled storytelling.