On her new album, Lana Del Rey addresses a decade's worth of criticism Twitter/LDReyInfo

Ever since “Video Games” exploded in popularity in 2011, Lana Del Rey has undoubtedly become one of the most consistently controversial artists of our times. Her irritatingly obsessive fanbase, the endless debates surrounding her live vocals, “authenticity” and mental wellbeing, and her clumsily worded Instagram posts have repeatedly distracted listeners and critics alike, so much so that her talents as a musician are often ignored entirely. In the nine years since then, she has released seven albums and a book of poetry — a remarkable creative output, given that every album she releases is written and arranged with exceptional quality and care. But even now, her actions still make the headlines in place of her music, and she’s made it increasingly clear that she’s tired of it.

And so we arrive tentatively at Blue Banisters, Lana’s second album of 2021. I say “tentatively”, because this record had a bizarre rollout period: initially, it was dubbed Rock Candy Sweet and touted with a June release, and a small handful of songs appeared with little-to-no promotion. It’s fitting that, musically, Blue Banisters is also more stripped back than any of Lana’s previous albums, primarily consisting of piano ballads. The simplicity is deceptive, however, as these songs are self-consciously constructed around their painstakingly intricate lyrics. “I’ve never felt the need to... tell my story,” she said in advance, “but if you’re interested this album does tell it — and does pretty much nothing more.”

“It functions like a tapestry, and it adds up to a much bigger picture”

The themes she touches upon are familiar; it seems that blue is still her favourite colour and that America will always be her first love, as she name-drops Brooklyn, Los Angeles and California as readily and often as if they were her own flesh and blood. But this record warrants closer attention, because the way she approaches this subject matter is decidedly new. She revisits the controversial issues of her earlier work — notably her mental health and familial relationships — and knowingly reassesses these tropes throughout, adding personal context and a surprising depth of self-perception. With some tracks on the album dating back as far as 2013, and with numerous writers credited, Blue Banisters is deliberately less streamlined than her past projects. It functions like a tapestry, and it adds up to a much bigger picture.

'It's not all doom-and-gloom and self-analysis on Blue Banisters'Twitter/LDReyInfo

“I didn’t even like myself, or love the life I had,” she reflects poignantly on album opener “Text Book”, beginning a wider conversation about her mental health. For the most part she is bitterly defensive: “What if someone had asked Picasso not to be sad?”, she asks cuttingly on “Beautiful”. Having been accused of glamorising mental illness for so long — “I wish I was dead,” she infamously told The Guardian in 2014 — she probably has a right to tell critics to mind their own business now. She expresses a similar sentiment on “Living Legend”, a song dating back to her career’s beginnings: “I never meant to be bad or unwell/I was just living on the edge… And I’m tired of it.” It’s unexpectedly frank from somebody who based her career on veiling her thoughts in vague, dark metaphors. “I live on sheer willpower,” she admits. It transpires that Lana Del Rey was more self-aware back then than the critics gave her credit for.

For her love life, too, she has been hounded by the press — be it for her romanticisation of domestic violence or countless stories involving older men. When the album opens with, “I guess you could call it textbook/I was looking for the father I wanted back”, it’s almost a relief.

"Arcadia" is one of 'Lana Del Rey's finest vocal performances to date'Youtube/Lana Del Rey

It’s not all doom-and-gloom and self-analysis on Blue Banisters, though, with “Dealer” and “Arcadia” offering some of Lana Del Rey’s finest vocal performances to date. Elsewhere, the one-liners and quarantine-quips pile up like Easter eggs, including such gems as “If this is the end, I want a boyfriend” and “Mail me when you get the blues… By the way, thanks for the shoes”. “Thunder” describes a man who acts “like fucking Mr. Brightside”, and the crown jewel must be “Jason is out on the lawn/And he power-washes every time things go wrong”. More follow, and with the exception of the bizarre line “Lay your hands on me like you’re a Land Rover” in “Arcadia”, she pulls them all off in fine style. It’s a subtle but important shift in scope, indicating that there might be more to her future than those sepia-tinged doomsday hymns of the past.


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Given that she recently changed her will to prohibit posthumous releases of her music, I can’t escape the impression that Lana Del Rey has reflected a lot upon her legacy over the past eighteen months, and that seems warranted — given her notoriety. Perhaps, then, Blue Banisters is the Lana record the world needed in order to rectify the misunderstandings of the past, straighten out the problematic edges that cast shadows upon her career, and let people into her mind once and for all. But I also can’t help but feel that those who have repeatedly criticised Lana mistakenly overlooked the irony and humour in much of her work, preferring to take her at face value. When people don’t want to know, they never will, and I fear that Blue Banisters won’t affect the opinions of Lana’s harshest critics, even if she dearly hopes it will. But, alas, I don’t think it really matters. She’s proven time and time again that she never really needed them anyway.