With the creation of her Lana Del Rey persona, singer/songwriter Lizzy Grant stitched together the iconography of a fading American dream with soaring but melancholic pop songwriting, becoming an icon unto herself in the process. Her distinctive approach blurred sadness and longing just as it did past and present, drawing on the influence of classic American pop while integrating modernized touches like trap beats and millennial cultural references. With sixth album Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey expands her vision with the most daring and vulnerable work of her catalog. One of the first noticeable shifts is how subtle the album's sound is. Where 2017's Lust for Life had its share of huge drums and booming dynamics, many songs here are free of drums completely and tend towards far more solitary atmospheres. A strong classic rock influence comes through on many songs, with the softly building pianos and acoustic guitars on tracks like "Mariners Apartment Complex" or the apocalyptic "The Greatest" sounding like the best of '70s FM radio reworked around Grant's smoldering, exhausted vocals. Even though Stevie Nicks' witchy mystique has long been a reference point for LDR, this particular brand of classic rock -- silky guitar solos, compressed drum fills, and lingering, mournful outros -- is unlike anything she's attempted before. The most exciting aspects of Norman Fucking Rockwell! come in these unexpected moments. A faithful reading of Sublime's "Doin' Time" contorts to fit Grant's moody approach, becoming an extension of her own expression rather than a goofy, ironic cover. Where huge pop hooks met eerie melodrama on previous albums, here both extremities of that formula have grown more understated and direct. "Venice Bitch" is the best example of this. The nine-minute song begins with gentle strings and soft, hopeful melodies but winds into a long, meditative stretch where synth textures and hypnotic repeating vocals bleed into walls of noisy guitars. While much of her older material reveled in its own inconsolable sadness and detached numbness, the lush sonics and intimate narratives of Norman Fucking Rockwell! draw out hope from beneath desolate scenes. The patient flow, risky songwriting choices, and mature character of the album make it the most majestic chapter of Lana Del Rey's continuing saga of love and disillusionment under the California Sun.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas