You know you’re in for something unusual in 2021 when an album’s title track starts with this couplet:
“I’m on the run with you, my sweet love
There’s nothing wrong contemplating God”
And isn’t a Christian album, it’s one of ideas set to incredibly melodic music. Lana Del Rey’s 7th album in 11 years, “Chemtrails over the Country Club,” is so good it’s not a surprise really. But it’s this edgy, wonderful singer-songwriter’s most accessible work ever, full of hits, hummable, catchy songs shaped with producer Jack Antonoff into gems I’d like to hear on the radio (if there were a radio).
More than any other female singer songwriter working today, Lana Del Rey (her real name is Elizabeth Grant) is the descendant of Joni Mitchell. She’s ready to take on that mantel now, adding a haunting cover of Mitchell’s “For Free” to the end of this album as if to make an exclamation point. Mitchell should be flattered. This may be Lana’s “Court and Spark.”
Del Rey wants to make sure you’re ready for that point, so the penultimate song which precedes the cover is called “Dance Til We Die,” and begins with this news: “I’ve been covering Joni and dancing with Joan” and later remarks (maybe a nod to the watershed “Hissing of Summer Lawns”): “Joan said she was gonna quit/Tearin’ it up at the Afro-Caribbean two-step.” (Joan may also be a reference to Joan Baez, which is also cool.)
A Lana DelRey album always seems like it’s going to be serious, but this time she and Antonoff have found several compromises that lift this collection to place that I would call supremely enjoyable. The single, “Let Me Love You Like A Woman,” in a normal world, would not only be a radio constant but the best Record or Single of any year. “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” should be added to the movie “Nomadland” as its theme song.
Two tracks need to be focused on right away. “Breaking Up Slowly,” written with Antonoff and Nikki Lane actually IS a hit record if hits were defined by concise lyrics and catchy refrains. But it may be too mordant for country music with a line like “I don’t want to wind up like Tammy Wynette.”
But the key to “Chemtrails” is “Dark But Just a Game,” the album’s centerpiece. A meditation on fame, DelRey and Antonoff say they got the idea after attending a celebrity party in Hollywood and being shaken after meeting some of their idols. This might also be the most Joni Like construction of a song, with a chorus you can imagine live audiences singing along to.
A decade is a long time. Lana DelRey has been out there for a while following her own path, gathering a cult audience. There have always been flickers of big breakthrough success. But “Chemtrails” may be it, and what a pleasure if this is her moment.
I can’t wait to get this CD, put it my car, and play it over and over. If you like real music, and not some of the stuff we’ve seen in recent days, this is for you.