In the past decade, Lana Del Rey has proven to be a prolific writer who releases albums faster than most of her peers. Since signing to a major label, she’s now released seven albums, including two this year alone. Chemtrails Over The Country Club – which came out last March – was our least favorite record from Lana so far, but luckily, her newest album is a step in the right direction. Blue Banisters is a solid album, building off of Lana’s last two releases. It’s her standard, ballad-heavy fare, but Lana also adds more country elements, returns to some of her earlier sounds, throws in sublime strings and horns, and offers up some new vocal styles. It’s at once in line with what she’s been exploring since Norman Fucking Rockwell in 2019 while also extending into something a tad more experimental.
Let’s start with the obvious: These are mostly piano- and acoustic guitar-based songs, generally slow in tempo. However, this album isn’t quite so ballad-heavy as Chemtrails, and certainly not so monotone or spare. Whereas that album was stripped down, Blue Banisters offers an interesting array of colors. Strings and horns add dynamic, but Lana also veers into new styles: a bit of old country here, a song that’s almost circus-like there. She brings in guest vocalists in places, and even explores her own voice in new ways, belting and almost screaming on at least one track.
“If You Lie Down With Me” has a distinctly country sound to it, and some lyrics reflect this, too. However, it also builds up into a lovely chorus, Lana singing, “Dance me all around the room / Spin me like a ballerina.” “Dealer,” which was first worked on in 2017 and later meant to appear on Chemtrails, is mostly sung by Miles Kane, uncredited here. Lana joins in, her first part actually recalling elements of Born To Die. But then she moves into a belt, almost a scream, showing off her full upper register. It’s the most different song here, and there’s something distinctly drunken about it. The third country-leaning track is “Thunder,” another one that features guest vocals, this time as a choir backing up Lana. Like “Dealer,” this was first conceived of in 2017 as part of an unreleased album Lana recorded with The Last Shadow Puppets.
A few songs end in a clownish breakdown. Album highlight “Black Bathing Suit” is humorous yet sincere, and its chorus is perhaps the most like Born To Die we’ve heard from Lana in a while. (It helps that it follow “Interlude – The Trio,” a refreshing trap instrumental.) After a powerful few minutes, the song dissolves into a circus-like, messy end, but it somehow works. “If You Lie Down With Me” ends similarly, despite starting somewhere completely different.
Later on Blue Banisters, Lana revisits some older songs that were originally written for her 2014 album, Ultraviolence. “Nectar Of The Gods,” “Living Legend,” and “Cherry Blossom” were all composed in 2013, and while they fit well with the rest of the songs, it’s also obvious how much Lana’s lyrics and melodies have changed over the years. These three songs are more intimate and distraught, especially “Nectar Of The Gods.” There, Lana sings about heroin and calling up an ex just to hang up and call again. Unadorned acoustic guitar joins her. “Living Legend” adds in piano, but is otherwise similarly vulnerable. “Cherry Blossom” relies on piano, forming a gentle and beautiful ballad, Lana singing, “What you don’t tell no one, you can tell me.”
This leads to some of the most delicate and beautiful songs on the album. Of course, “Beautiful” – with its high, tinkling piano – is one of them. On it, Lana croons, “I can turn sad into happiness / I can turn blue into something beautiful.” Next, on “Violets For Roses,” Lana sings of getting herself back after leaving her ex: “Ever since I fell out of love with you I fell back in love with me.” The last song on the album, “Sweet Carolina,” is an endearing lullaby Lana wrote with her dad, her sister, and their family friend.
Of the songs released ahead of the album, “Text Book” and “Wildflower Wildfire” are the most intriguing. The former is dynamic and nuanced from verse to chorus, while the latter offers hissed vocals and a gospel choir. “Arcadia” is nice and shows off a bit of belting, adding to its emotive power. However, the title track remains the least exciting here. It’s an emotional ballad, but for some reason, it doesn’t do much for this reviewer. Even so, it’s not bad for a “lowlight” on the album; it’s still a good song.
The Final Verdict
Blue Banisters is the kind of album we’ve come to expect from Lana Del Rey, especially in recent years. It’s in line with where she was at on Norman Fucking Rockwell in 2019, moving ahead with intimate ballads but also throwing in elements of country and unexpected breakdowns. Although it has some sonic similarities with Chemtrails Over The Country Club (released just seven months ago), this is a much stronger and more inspired album. There are some excellent songs here that will stand the test of time, and most of them will harken you back for frequent relistening. This is not a surprising album, exactly, but it is a solid and delightful new addition to Lana’s catalogue.
Highlights on Blue Banisters include: “Text Book,” “Black Bathing Suit,” “If You Lie Down With Me,” “Beautiful,” “Violets For Roses,” “Wildflower Wildfire,” “Cherry Blossom,” and “Sweet Carolina.”