Review: Lana Del Rey’s Blue Banisters Paints a Vivid, Complicated Personal Portrait

Blue Banisters further fleshes out Lana Del Rey’s increasingly colorful personal world.

Lana Del Rey, Blue Banisters
Photo: Interscope Records

“Let’s keep it simple, babe/Don’t make it complicated,” Lana Del Rey purrs at the start of “Beautiful,” a track from her eighth studio album, Blue Banisters. The lyric serves as a statement of purpose, reflecting the album’s pared-down arrangements, as in the glistening, interlocking piano chords on “Beautiful,” the emphatically plucked acoustic guitar on “Nectar of the Gods,” and plaintive brass instruments on “Arcadia” and “If You Lie Down with Me.” The decision to keep the music sparse draws focus to the lyrical content, which is some of the most razor-sharp and bitingly funny of Del Rey’s career: “‘Crypto forever!’/Screams your stupid boyfriend/Fuck you, Kevin,” she quips on “Sweet Carolina.”

Where this past spring’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club underlined its genres of choice—country, folk, jazz—via overt lyrical and musical references, Blue Banisters merely hints at its own with far-off pedal steel (“Text Book”) and tittering jazz drums (“Black Bathing Suit”). This is, perhaps, due to the absence of producer Jack Antonoff, replaced here with less well-known collaborators like Gabe Simon and Drew Erickson. Hip-hop stalwart Mike Dean also contributes to one track, the piano-driven “Wildflower Wildfire,” but his presence is as much of a tease as the Morricone-quoting “Interlude – The Trio,” whose big, rattling 808s erupt out of nowhere on an album with otherwise minimal percussion.

A fascination with color, a recurring thread that’s ever-shifting in its meaning, is weaved throughout Blue Banisters. When, on “Beautiful,” Del Rey quips, “What if someone had asked/Picasso not to be sad…there would be no blue period,” we understand “blue” to represent not just a state of depression, but one that yields inspiration. On “Nectar of the Gods,” the singer admits that she gets “wild and fuckin’ crazy like the color blue,” suggesting inspiration morphing into impulsiveness. To further confound the motif, across the two distinct choruses of the title track, Del Rey describes a man who promises to paint her banisters blue and enliven her dreary existence. Later, after “a baby’s on the way,” her sisters come to paint her banisters “green and gray,” as if to highlight the man’s empty promise.

“Blue Banisters” marks a new wrinkle in Del Rey’s portrayal of gender. Her music has long explored the charged dynamics between men and women, but Blue Banisters ventures into untrod territory for her. “Thunder” sees the artist rebuking a man whom she knows so intimately that she sees through the veneer he puts on for other people. Del Rey is fraught yet also wiser for how she acknowledges the salve of love while questioning her own obsession with it. Ultimately, she finds a man’s attention unsatisfying and unfulfilling.

Elsewhere, “Violets for Roses” manages to be both beautiful and silly, contrasting city life and the countryside, with Del Rey making mention of a lover forcing her to trade her “new truck for horses” but reminding herself of the “simple life” that she chose. These and other references to a Midwestern existence are more detailed and self-aware than the idealizations on Chemtrails Over the Country Club, where the bucolic is merely seen as the antithesis to city life.

Del Rey’s vocals are as cherubic and distant as ever, stuck in a daydream but exactingly so. She’s torchy on “Dealer,” pushing herself to the brink of tears and her register to its highest reaches. On “Wildflower Wildfire,” she revs up an ever-accumulating force of melody. Sure, there’s an odd bit at the end of “Living Legend” where Del Rey’s trilling is processed through a wah-wah pedal, and there are several, perhaps inevitable, instances of thematic retreads from past albums. But by stripping back the sonic density of her previous work and taking its sweet time to unfold, Blue Banisters further fleshes out Del Rey’s increasingly vivid personal world.

 Label: Interscope  Release Date: October 22, 2021  Buy: Amazon

Charles Lyons-Burt

Charles Lyons-Burt covers the government contracting industry by day and culture by night. His writing has also appeared in Spectrum Culture, In Review Online, and Battleship Pretension. He holds a B.A. in Film Studies and English from Vassar College.

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