The first single that was ever “mine” was “Beep Beep” by The Playmates. I didn’t really understand the joke about how a bubble car could go faster than a limousine, especially if it was stuck in second gear but I liked the repetitive sound effects of “Beep Beep” and the way the song sped up throughout. I think this song possibly informed my love of joke songs (Half Man Half Biscuit) and songs where the tempo increases (“Moonshine Whiskey”).
The next three singles I was bought were all by Helen Shapiro: “You Don’t Know”, “Walkin’ Back To Happiness” and “Tell Me What He Said” were all very good pop songs and I played both sides of each single over and over. I think that this obsession may well have informed my love of female artists. When I look at albums I bought in 2020, there were 12 new albums by females. Molly Tuttle, Frazey Ford, Lucinda Williams, Waxahatchee don’t have that much in common musically, apart from gender. And then there is the magnificent uniqueness of Joni Mitchell; I tend to go through periods when I obsess over the Canadian genius and her five disc archive set was released last year. Talking of which, Lana Del Rey sings “I’m covering Joni” at the start of the penultimate song on this album, “Dance Till We Die” and then, on the final track, “For Free”, she does exactly that. Lol Coxhill died 9 years ago but his legacy lives on whether it be his great saxophone playing on “Shooting At The Moon” or as the inspiration for this song after Joni Mitchell saw him busking.
It’s very nearly a year since I started writing all these ridiculous random ramblings and it’s tempting to look back over the last twelve months and take stock. There have been bonuses: increased contact with some of my friends, losing a stone and a half in weight and widening my musical taste are the three things that spring to mind. If you’d said to me in March 2020 that three of my favourite albums in a year’s time would be two by Taylor Swift and one by Lana Del Rey, I wouldn’t have believed you. I find it interesting that both of these musicians have successfully widened their appeal from teenage girls to include curmudgeonly men in their sixties. It’s not that different from the journey that The Best Band In The World made from recording “Love Me Do” in 1962 to “Strawberry Fields Forever” in 1966. Okay, the musical journey isn’t anywhere nearly as dramatic but the broadening of the target audience is not dissimilar.
I don’t know whether the best thing or the worst thing about lockdown is that in this blog, I write contentious things like I did in that last paragraph and, “normally” someone would tell me that I’m talking bollocks before buying me another pint of Harvey’s. Whilst I’m not seeing anyone, I can be as outrageous as I like and nobody can disagree. On the other hand, there is a comments section at the bottom….
In October 2019, Lana Del Rey phoned Joan Baez to ask her to come on stage at a concert she was giving in Berkeley to sing “Diamonds And Rust”, a great song she had written in 1975 about her relationship with Bob Dylan in the early Sixties. After the concert, Joan Baez took Lana Del Rey to a San Francisco club called Little Baobab where the older woman kept her new friend dancing until 2:00 a.m. Dirk Powell, Joan Baez’s guitar player, told Lana Del Rey that his boss “is not going to stop dancing ‘till she dies”. In November 2020, Lana Del Rey posted an Instagram video of Joan Baez dancing in the aisles of a store to celebrate Joe Biden’s victory with the caption “Man, that’s my girl. She never stops dancing”. The name dropping that Lana Del Rey never shies away from reaches a high point on “Dance Till We Die”. The grammatical error in the title is forgotten as Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks and Courtney Love are all mentioned in the first three lines. The song is beautiful and affirms her determination to find solidarity with her musical heroes, ploughing her own furrow and doing it as well as she can.
“For Free” follows and is also beautifully sung and arranged with sympathetic piano played by Jack Antonoff, the only member of The Bleachers and co-producer of the album with Lana Del Rey. He also co-produced Taylor Swift’s two 2020 albums along with Aaron Dessner.
The opening song is called “White Dress” and, at times, her voice is so high pitched, she can only whisper. There’s no doubting that this is a beautiful, ethereal song which conveys calm and peace. I’m sure that her younger fans, maybe those who are working in low paid jobs will be able to empathise with the plight of a famous singer, allegedly worth $30 million, who looks back with fondness to the simpler times when she wore a white dress as a waitress, listened to The White Stripes or Kings Of Leon and she “felt free ‘cause I was only nineteen.” It would appear that money can’t buy you love.
In the title track, Lana Del Rey and her sister are chilling out in a swimming pool and contrasting the serenity of these moments with the chemicals and biological warfare that rain down on us from passing aircrafts. I thought those lines in the sky were just water vapour but, apparently, these “Chemtrails” are all part of a government conspiracy to subvert us all. I mean, you never see a politician out in the open when an aircraft flies over their head, do you? It’s another beautiful sounding track. Lana Del Rey’s sister is a photographer and appears on the very left of the group of women in the cover picture.
“Breaking Up Slowly” is sung as a duet with Nikki Lane, who is a country singer from South Carolina. It purports to tell the story of George Jones and Tammy Wynette and suggests that breaking up slowly is quite hard. I don’t get that because she also sings that she doesn’t want to end up like Tammy Wynette but she and George Jones did break up slowly. Oh well.
In an interview with MOJO, Lana Del Rey said “I’m not going to try my best not to change because I love who I am.” And obviously, we all love you too. As Gerry Goffin and Carole King said, “Please don’t ever change”. “Dark But Just A Game” was inspired by a bad incident at a party she attended with Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent at the house of Guy Osceary, the manager of Madonna and U2. She said “I think it’s interesting that the best musicians end up in such terrible places”. So, no judgement then. Some of the lyrics are “I was a pretty little thing and, God, I loved to sing. But nothing came from either one but pain (but Fuck It).” This is another beautiful song and I really shouldn’t let the lyrics (or overuse of the word ‘but’) spoil my enjoyment of the music.
“Chemtrails Over The Country Club” sounds great. It’s gentle, melodic and calming. Alexis Petredis described the tempo of the album as akin to “the pacy zip of the World Indoor Bowls Championship” (which is a typically snooty remark from someone who clearly has never appreciated the excitement of live sport).
Aretha Franklin, Minnie Ripperton, Joni Mitchell. They all have the ability to sing in a huge variety of styles, at different pitches and with a range of timbres. Lana Del Rey is a little less versatile but she has produced a lovely Summery sounding album with great arrangements which will, presumably, enhance her credibility with “serious” muzos who previously dismissed her as appealing “only” to the teen audience. As if there’s something wrong with that.
Just one gripe. I realise that I am in a minority in that I like to actually buy the CD rather than stream it but I would think that a little more care could be given to the production of the physical artefact. My Steve Earle CD that also arrived yesterday has a 16 page booklet with lyrics. Lana Del Rey’s album comes with a 4 page booklet with the lyrics to the first four songs in about a 6 point type. There was no room to include the lyrics for the remaining songs so I have to go online to read them. I suppose the album will only sell about 100 billion copies and make her even wealthier so why treat the older, wiser and more discerning music lover with the respect he deserves? Rant over. It’s a lovely album.