A delicate addition to a discography full of melodramatic instrumentals and darkly disastrous relationships, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” is a stripped-down album that centers on Lana Del Rey’s evolution as an artist.
Del Rey dives deep into the still waters of maturity after a string of restless, rowdy songs in her history as an artist. “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” takes a step toward authenticity, breaking away from the soaring strings and hazy romances of her past works.
Del Rey’s latest album confides in the listener, detailing the turmoil behind accepting normality and the struggles of a sensitive artist in an industry that thrives on celebrity exploitation. Sonically, there is an element of comfort in the way Del Rey maintains a careless simplicity throughout the album with songs like “Wild at Heart” and “Tulsa Jesus Freak.”
The title itself is a play on words, evoking themes interwoven throughout the album. Chemtrails refer to a conspiracy in which the government adds chemicals into the atmosphere through condensation trails left behind by airplanes, while country clubs evoke white picket memories of suburban bliss.
“White Dress” leads the tracklist with a nostalgic view of youth that colors the mood of the LP. Baring herself to the world, Del Rey pairs hoarse, wrenching vocals with snippets of her reflections, a new step for a singer accustomed to traveling octaves in ’60s-style croons.
The album features two collaborations between Del Rey and other artists. Zella Day and Weyes Blood join Del Rey on “For Free,” a bittersweet cover of Joni Mitchell’s ’70s rumination. Straightforward and unadorned instrumentally, Mitchell’s lyrics serve as the centerpiece to the cover.
The lyrics of “For Free” fit with the theme of the album, as they contemplate how the singer can balance glamour with the guilt of losing artistic integrity; the ordinary man on the street can create music for fun, while Mitchell and Del Rey have to fight to keep their public images from tanking. For listeners, it serves as a reminder of Del Rey’s struggle with fame as well as the cyclical nature of this turmoil.
Del Rey also grapples with the personal consequences of being thrust into the public eye. Escapism bursts through in “Wild at Heart,” a swinging ode to racing down Sunset Boulevard and losing herself in the smoke. With a subtle nod to the bars where she first began performing, this song serves as a glimpse into an alternate future where Del Rey remains unknown.
This dramatic lyricism in “Wild at Heart” contrasts the soulful melancholy of “Not All Who Wander Are Lost.” A far cry from the reckless escapism of past songs such as “Ride,” this sparkling lullaby capitalizes on the quiet confidence that comes with knowing all one wants is freedom.
The words “wanderlust” and “wander are lost” are hummed interchangeably in the outro of “Not All Who Wander Are Lost,” etching the fine line between losing oneself and deciding to lose everyone else. In keeping with the momentum of the album, it reworks familiar themes into a hopeful conclusion, as if Del Rey is tying up the loose ends of her past.
The eponymous single of the album, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” is perhaps the most optimistic of the songs. A slow panned dive into domesticity, it seeks to reconcile Del Rey’s newfound stability with the wildness that has characterized her youth.
Gilded with romance and introspection, “Chemtrails over the Country Club” stands out as a microcosm of the themes littering the album. Soaring choruses affirming Del Rey’s rebelliousness brush shoulders with traditionally suffocating imagery of household life. This abnormality is what the chemtrails represent — inner eccentricity and conspiracy that threaten domestic bliss.
As thematically intriguing and well-executed as “Chemtrails over the Country Club” may be, Del Rey’s compilation of controversies over the past year are challenging to ignore. From her attack on other female pop artists to the infamous jewelled mask episode, in which Del Rey defended a mesh face mask after receiving backlash from fans, her mishaps serve as a reminder of the bewildering divide between art and artist. With an issuance of apologies and the announcement of a future album addressing her mistakes, there is still space for Del Rey to grow as a public figure. A self-declared poet trapped in the body of a starlet, Del Rey punctuates her transition from a wild, young singer to a mature artist with this album, sustaining the same fire for artistic integrity that has come to encapsulate her career. A contemplative glance towards what may come next reveals little. It may be best to resort to her own lyrics on this latest album: “Baby, what of it?”