In 2012, Lana Del Rey told us “we were born to die”, and it was on her thusly named album that she found fame. With lyrically dark but musically upbeat tracks, Born To Die elevated Lana Del Rey firmly into the music scene. Before this, Del Rey had released one previous, self-titled album. Chemtrails Over the Country Club is her seventh studio album. This new album takes us right back to the message of Born to Die with lyrics about shying away from fame, living her own life, and not taking the media too seriously. This follows Del Rey’s Norman F*cking Rockwell album, which was released in 2019.
Since the success of Born to Die, Del Rey’s sound has evolved. We transitioned through passion and power on Ultraviolence; light, delicate vocals on Honeymoon and Lust For Life, both of which had a similar energy; and then onto more harmonious, emotive, poetic, slow tracks on Norman F*cking Rockwell. I adored NFR, and was keen to see what would come next.
When I first heard Born To Die in 2012, I was immediately sold. I loved Ultraviolence even more, but Del Rey lost me a little with Honeymoon and Lust For Life, although both had some incredible tracks, including “Art Deco” and “Cherry”. I was firmly back on-side after last year’s release of NFR, and have been anticipating Chemtrails Over the Country Club keenly.
After enjoying Lana’s most recent album immensely, I also fell in love with the poetry collection Del Rey released last year. I feel that we are entering a new era of her creation, and I am thrilled to be able to witness it first-hand. Old Del Rey work was focused on powerful choruses and defiant statements, whereas newer work is calmer and more slow-paced… but still packs the same punch. I am enjoying this slower phase, as it allows us to really feel the emotion behind the work, and examine her lyricism more closely as we listen.
Originally named ‘White Hot Forever’, Chemtrails Over the Country Club was intended for release in September 2020, before being delayed. The title track single was released on the 11th of January this year. The official album cover is a black and white photograph of Del Rey and a group of her female friends sitting around a table in beautiful dresses with a gingham tablecloth. Everything about the imagery screams vintage and chic – so nothing unexpected there. Most of the songs are produced by Jack Antonoff, which should not be a surprise. The two have been working together for many years, with Antonoff’s name splashed all over Norman F*cking Rockwell, from which he co-wrote some of the songs.
Chemtrails over the Country Club is comprised of eleven tracks, two of which have been released prior to the album release date. Right on time, Friday morning, my postman delivered my disc to my doorstep, and I was excited to hear what it had to offer. I will take you through them in order, and then reflect on the overall feel of the album.
“White Dress” already has its own music video, and seems to be an early fan-favourite. I agree, the song is beautiful and haunting, and feels even more vulnerable than other work. Del Rey describes this song as the “one of the saddest” of her career so far. Written largely as an improvised work whilst in the studio with Antonoff, “White Dress” sets the mood of this album wonderfully.
The album opener begins with a piano introduction and very gentle vocals. The very first time I listened to it it managed to make me feel nostalgic, which was impressive. I already feel as though I have loved this song for years. Unlike Del Rey’s usual style, the vocals remain very delicate all the way through. I love this as an introduction, but I was concerned that this style might continue throughout the album leaving it feeling lacking. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case.
When I focus on the instrumental, I get goosebumps and the sense that this song tells a real story. Although the vocals themselves are not particularly powerful, there is something powerful about the feel of this track anyway. I have a feeling many people might relate to this track, making it last as one of the album’s more popular titles.
“Chemtrails Over the Country Club”
This song, the title track, is very gentle, unassuming, and then suddenly incredibly catchy. The music video, which I watched as soon as this track was released (11th January, 2021), is a cinematic wonder. Del Rey sets out a very clear aesthetic of pearls, blue skies, and vintage cars and makeup.
There is so much grace and the music flows so smoothly that I found it very easy to fall in love with its sound. There are multiple references to astrology, and as a whole the track feels ethereal and light, but somehow still gives us a deep sense of connection with it. Del Rey creates poetry with her lyrics and each line feels carefully crafted to fit together with the lines either side of it. I truly see this as a masterful work, and I am glad it was chosen as the album’s focus.
It is easy to see why this became the chosen title track. It is very easy to listen to, and the idea of watching chemtrails fill the sky fills us all with thoughts of the freedom and fresh air we are all longing for. The imagery is beautiful and so is the track. The music video is very well done, and I enjoyed this song immensely.
However, the downside of this track to me is that it feels as though it is missing something. A lot of Del Rey’s songs have a catchy hook or a powerful chorus and I find both things slightly lacking with this one. Although it is easy to become immersed in, there is not that one moment where you can feel the song start to ramp up; it’s more of a slow build. While that does work for this song, the fact that this whole album is composed of tracks that are similar in their slow-burn style makes it noticeable that the chorus is very lowkey here too.
Like some of the later tracks, specifically, “Wild At Heart”, and “Dark But Just A Game”, there are lines in here about how Del Rey doesn’t enjoy her fame anymore, and would rather live a simple life. She sings, “I don’t care what they think”, and tells us she is happy living her life. I love that this is the message behind the album.
“Tulsa Jesus Freak”
This third song goes straight to vocals, no introduction. It has a gentle sound, much like “White Dress”, but a quicker pace and a more intricate story.
This track features the line, “white hot forever”, which was originally going to be the album title. Del Rey sings about drinking and bringing men back to her bed and to me there are a lot of throwbacks in sound and mood to “This is What Makes Us Girls” in there, from Born To Die.
Another song that seems to be an early fan-favourite, this one glossed over me a little. Although I enjoyed listening to it, I didn’t find it memorable once I had moved on to the following tracks. Despite its catchy lyrics and angelic sound, I found this track less masterful than its counterparts.
“Let Me Love You Like a Woman”
This was the first song I heard from this album. I remember listening to it after it was released as a single and feeling very calm. It has all the hallmarks of any Del Rey song — it is deeply romantic, silky smooth, and darkly haunting. Del Rey takes you on a journey of what it means to be affectionate and in love with someone, and reminds you how delicate our emotions can be.
Musically, this is a simple tune, but vocally it is a masterpiece of strong vocals and intensely emotional lyrics. I enjoy the vulnerability of this song so much. Del Rey never shies away from singing about personal topics, but there is something very raw about this one in particular.
There are also a few references to popular songs in here. The lines, “let me shine like a diamond”, and “we could get lost in the purple rain” both seem to be referencing culturally significant works. There may be more references that I have missed. Later on in the album, Del Rey also sings about being a “candle in the wind”, a reference that also appears a few times in NFR.
“Wild at Heart”
This track features some very pretty lines, accented by simple instrumentals and vivid imagery of bars, California, and city life. The title itself shares its name with a few other popular cultural works, including the novel by Barry Gifford. This became a 1990 film directed by David Lynch, where the two main characters decide to run away to California.
This sounds similar to the title track in style. There are similar backing riffs and a similar singing style. It also uses the same introduction chords and outro as the NFR track “How To Disappear”. It feels like that song’s wilder sister, in many ways.
The lyrics sing about a woman who sees herself as free, but is held back by her fame and seems sad about the way her life has turned out. Or perhaps it is more a general nostalgia than a direct comment on how her life has turned out.
On first listen, one line in particular caught my attention, “the cameras have flashes, they cause car crashes”, which I can’t see as anything but a reference to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. This is very direct, but I would suggest that Del Rey is singing about women as a collective, more than she wishes the focus to be on one particular incident.
She has picked out a reference that she knew would pack a punch, but she is talking about us all. Calling out the press in such a way she is talking about anyone and everyone who has felt hounded or bullied by online and print media. Del Rey also sings about leaving California after the fires, and how she does not see herself as a star. This alludes to the following track, which delves more deeply into the way she feels about her own fame.
“Dark but Just a Game”
This song follows on very well from “Wild At Heart”. Placing them beside one another was a deliberate choice, and this feels like a continuation of the same point and story. One lyric specifically stands out, “their stories all end tragically”. Del Rey is building upon her distaste for the way the world treats those in the public eye, and getting ready to make points about her own life and fame.
This track feels punchier to me, almost hip-hop feeling. There is more going on in the background, and the vocal melody is catchier. With a powerful message about the world we have created, we are transported to a moody place where we can choose to ignore the parts of our world that we dislike. While ignorance is not always bliss, sometimes we have to switch ourselves off to the madness before we become mad ourselves. The line “sweet but whatever” sounds a little like “white hot forever” from “Tulsa Jesus Freak”.
On this track specifically, as referenced in “Wild At Heart”, Del Rey sings about leaving her life behind and shying away from the fame she has amassed. No doubt she has been shrouded in controversy over recent months, which perhaps has played into her wish to become more low-key. The title of this track suggests to me that despite the harsh criticism many celebrities face, Del Rey recognises this as just a “game” played by the media and the public. She declares proudly that she will never change herself, but she doesn’t like nor want fame.
“Take them for what they’ve got”, which is a paraphrasing of the famous line in “Money, Power, Glory”, (one of my all-time favourite Lana tracks) is a poignant line in this song. This seems like a call back to the idea that Del Rey recognises there are times when you either win or lose, and that sometimes you must fight to come out on top. Except, while before she was talking about men, it seems that here she is talking about the media and the paparazzi specifically, and how she hopes to one-up them by hiding away and living her own life as far from the public eye as she can.
The whole mood of this song is one of recognition towards the darkness, but also of our ability to decide to let go of the things that may be dark, but do not matter. I think this is a very important message that we can all think about, and this is one of my favourite songs from this album.
“Not All Who Wander Are Lost”
I am tempted to say that this song features the best vocal performance of the album. Del Rey’s words are dripping with sensuality and articulation. The exact meaning behind this song is difficult to pinpoint without being the artist herself, but it features its title throughout and gives the sense that perhaps the song is supposed to give meaning to those who feel they have lost themselves this year. However you interpret its meaning, this is a beautiful song, and one I feel will grow on me the more I listen to it.
Coming back to this song after listening to the album through a few times, I can confirm this track cemented itself as a firm favourite for me.
This song was written back in 2015/2016, and originally was intended to feature on Lust For Life. But Del Rey stated in an interview that it was “too happy” for the album, and so it took until now for it to be officially released, although back in 2017, Del Rey joked about featuring it on an album of her 25 favourite leaked songs. I think this is a stunning and dreamy depiction surrounding the meaning of our lives and who we are as people. This might well be my favourite new song from the album.
Del Rey sings, “no more candle in the wind”, after “Mariner’s Apartment Complex” from Norman F*cking Rockwell gave us, “I ain’t no candle in the wind”, which felt like a form of denial. This feels like a deliberate development intended to tell us that Del Rey really does feel “invincible” this time, and has grown as a person. This feeds into the overall feeling of the album that focuses on of strength and a new, carefree lifestyle.
Poetry, invincibility, and morality are themes throughout this track. You can feel the emotion that has been put into the track, and you can see why it is one of Del Rey’s favourites. I also can’t help but mention that parts of the melody remind me of Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved”.
The lyrics reference a candle in the wind at multiple points. This is a familiar concept in Del Rey’s work, but this time her candle is “burning at both ends”, giving us another reason for her new distaste for fame and the pressures that come with it.
“Breaking Up Slowly”
This track feels very different to the others. Beginning with vocals from Nikki Lane, who co-wrote the song with Del Rey, it is darker and slower, but also peaceful and powerful in meaning.
Very reminiscent of the themes featuring in much of Del Rey’s work – break-ups, heartbreak, love gone wrong. However, Del Rey moves away from wallowing in this sadness and trying to claw back pieces of a relationship, and instead sings, “it’s hard to be lonely, but it’s the right thing to do”. Although the themes are similar to her past work, there is a new maturity and a new sense that lessons have been learned and accepted. It is a powerful reminder that sometimes sadness is unavoidable, but in accepting it we can learn to grow.
The backing vocals of this song in the second half are exquisite and incredibly emotive. This was the second point through the album that gave me goosebumps. Although there are no especially extended songs on this album, as is sometimes Del Rey’s style, “Breaking Up Slowly” is noticeably the shortest track at just shy of 3 minutes. Despite really enjoying it the first time I listened, I was a little disappointed it was so short.
“Dance Till We Die”
The first line in this track is a direct reference to the final track, a cover of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free”. I can picture myself singing this song in moments of melancholy, much like “Breaking Up Slowly”.
There is more power behind this track than many of the others. In fact, this track has what some of the others are missing. There is a strong background and heavy vocal expression and it feels very emotive.
Near the end of the track is a bridge. It has an almost jazzy, upbeat feel to it, but keeps its slow, powerful backing sound. Del Rey tells us she will not stop dancing until she dies, cementing her lack of care for the opinions of others, and her wish to continue living in the moment. I am sure we could all take this advice.
“For Free” is a cover of the song by the same name by Joni Mitchell. This cover is well-executed, and fits perfectly at the end of this work. There is something about this song that sets it apart—you can tell that it is not an original work, however, the talk of shopping for jewels, velvet, black limousines, and fallen angles fits perfectly with Del Rey’s repertoire.
This track is full of delicate but steadily held notes. Featuring Zella Day and Weyes Blood, who recently released a collaboration as a duo, the harmonies are serene and angelic. The vocals blend together wonderfully and give a fresh, alternative feel to finish on. The final four lines that Mitchell added on her 1983 tour are not included in this rendition. The difference in style makes us recognise this as the denouement. The final line ends with, “plays real good for free”, and finishes the album off very nicely.
So, sadly, I have reached the end. My overall impression of this album is that it stays true to the newer sounds we have gotten used to from Lana Del Rey. Everything goes at a slower pace, similar to the sound of Norman F*cking Rockwell, but with less power behind some of the choruses. If anything, we have slowed down even more. This gives us more time to reflect on what we are hearing lyrically, which helps the songs become powerful not for the way they sound, but for what they mean. With Lana Del Rey starting to drift more towards her poetic inclinations I can see why this is something she chose to do. Overall, I think it has worked out perfectly if this was the intention behind the album.
Although I love this slow, calm, meaningful presence in Del Rey’s newer work, with the whole album feeling this way I couldn’t help but feel that I was waiting on something big that never materialised. It seems that the old Lana style—powerful, deep vocals, with multi-layered, upbeat, and interesting compositions—may be a thing of the past. But, however far we drift from the Born To Die era, Del Rey continues to give us quality new sounds, and remains dedicated to poetic, meaningful lyrics. It is perfect listening for a quiet, reflective afternoon. If you enjoyed Norman F*cking Rockwell, this is probably for you.
This album is available now on vinyl, CD, cassette, and as a digital download. You can also buy limited edition albums with an alternative cover from some retailers (HMV in the UK). I had already pre-ordered my album when these became available, but they’re certainly beautiful. The shades of blue on the alternative cover blend so beautifully with each other, and go nicely with Del Rey’s previous album covers—all featuring herself as the main subject. Happy listening!