Lana Del Rey has been a major force in the pop world for nearly a decade, and deservedly so. Born To Die, Ultraviolence, and Honeymoon are each masterpieces in their own right. While Lust For Life had mixed reaction among fans, we at Hidden Jams loved it. In contrast, her last album, 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, was acclaimed by most. Today, Lana followed it up with her newest offering, Chemtrails Over The Country Club. The first two singles didn’t fully capture my interest, but fan reactions to a recent leak of the album were strong. With those conflicting impressions in consideration, I went into this album with an open mind, equally ready to either be wowed or disappointed. Unfortunately for me, it was closer to the latter.
The album starts off strong. “White Dress” is a mellow and nostalgic contemplation on Lana’s life before fame, back when she was just a waitress listening to 2000s rock bands. Although the song sounds rather predictable at first, it’s saved by Lana’s surprising vocal delivery on the chorus. The way she whisper-hisses the highest notes is at once unnerving and mesmerizing. Its shrillness captures raw tension, prioritizing emotional connection and authenticity over technical perfection.
That interplay between expected and unexpected may be a key theme of the album, actually. Many of the songs are rather tame, the kind of Lana Del Rey tunes we hear on every album, yet something different about them keeps them interesting. On the title track, despite a safe, dreamy melody and her usual slower tempo, the ending adds musical intrigue. Then on “Tulsa Jesus Freak” (the original title track, back when the album was going to be named White Hot Forever), Lana shockingly sings with very noticeable autotune – something that’s contrary to her usual minimalist production and folksy writing style.
The two biggest highlights on the album — “Dark But Just A Game” and “Yosemite” — are, not coincidentally, the most unique songs here. While “Dark But Just A Game,” like so many tracks on Chemtrails, starts off soft and simple, it soon weaves in the trip-hop beat that so amplified Lana songs in the past. It’s the most dynamic and interesting track here, and it’s paired with moving subject matter. “Yosemite,” on the other hand, is built on a gentle, swirling soundscape. It’s romantic, in some ways recalling “When The World Was At War We Kept Dancing”; of course, it was first intended to appear on Lana’s 2017 album, Lust For Life. We’re glad we finally get to hear it, because “Yosemite” truly shines on Chemtrails Over The Country Club.
Beyond those two, “Wild At Heart” and “Dance Till We Die” are also standout tracks, if to a lesser degree. Both have an element of feeling unadorned at first, but they also both offer something extra. “Wild At Heart” is at its best on the lilting chorus as Lana sings about flashing cameras; “Dance Till We Die” comes into itself on its energetic, almost anthemic bridge.
The first single we heard from Chemtrails Over The Country Club was “Let Me Love You Like A Woman” last October. At the time, it felt anticlimatic, even a bit boring. Yet the lyrics and melody are beautiful. Within the full album, it actually shines brighter than I’d expected, though it’s still not quite a favorite yet. Perhaps the least exciting songs, though, are “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” and “Breaking Up Slowly.” They don’t really forge new territory, musically or lyrically.
Like most of her albums, Lana includes a cover on Chemtrails Over The Country Club. To finish out the record, Lana sings Joni Mitchell’s “For Free” with Zella Day and Weyes Blood. She’s performed it live before, so it’s a familiar but welcome inclusion here. “For Free” is a gorgeous song, and Lana, Zella, and Weyes Blood do it justice here. It also perfectly ties into the theme of the album, as Lana’s covers always do.
The Final Verdict
The problem with Chemtrails Over The Country Club isn’t about any specific track on the album. As usual, Lana crafts beautiful songs that are compelling… on their own. Rather, the problem lies in how the songs fit together, both as an album and as an entire, decade-long catalogue of work.
From Honeymoon onwards, I’ve often found it hard to get through a full Lana Del Rey album in one sitting. This is mainly due to the slow tempo; I usually prefer for an album to have more ups and downs from beginning to end. Even so, those albums’ songs were strong enough — and dynamic enough — that they rose above this minor setback. The albums were still stunning as a whole, even if a bit too down-tempo and increasingly predictable.
But now, I’ve gotten to a point where I’m, unfortunately, bored of it. Chemtrails Over The Country Club has some great songs on it, but they’re so consistently true to form for Lana that I’m left underwhelmed. Even with some small vocal explorations in some tracks, as a whole, it’s not a surprising collection of songs. It doesn’t feel that Lana is doing or saying anything different from before, and I’m losing interest.
The lyrics are nice; the melodies are lovely; the performance is good. But even as Lana forays into the Midwest rather than California or New York, even as she tries on a more folk or country style than ever before, it still sounds very safe for her. It feels like Lana’s repeating herself, and maybe she has been for several albums now. That issue has reached its peak on Chemtrails.
On its own, Chemtrails Over The Country Club isn’t a bad album. If it’s your first time listening to Lana Del Rey, it might be satisfying, inspiring, and an emotional journey. But as a fan who’s been listening to her for nearly a decade, I’m ready to hear Lana do something completely unexpected. Or at least increase the BPM a bit.
Chemtrails Over The Country Club Score: 3/5
Highlights on Chemtrails Over The Country Club include: “Dark But Just A Game,” “Yosemite,” “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” “White Dress,” and “Wild At Heart,” and “Dance Til We Die.”