Lana’s latest might be branded as spoken-word poetry, but Violet still features the introspective lyricism, emotional vulnerability, and intelligent songcraft we’ve come to expect from the singular artist.
The prospect of a book of poetry from Lana Del Rey might seem, to anyone familiar with the songs that made her famous and her accompanying image, like a rupture in the delicate fabric of her chic Americana branding, taking her frequent references to the likes of T.S. Eliot and the romanticized artist’s lifestyle a touch too far. The lyrical brilliance of her last album (Norman Fucking Rockwell) was met with appropriate critical recognition, but it’s still not hard to see how such a literary turn might be perceived as gauche or pretentious coming from such a popular musician. However, any assumption that she wouldn’t apply the same blunt introspection and confrontational sincerity to these poems as she does her music would be to underestimate Elizabeth Grant’s intelligence.
For the audiobook version, Lana Del Rey’s largely subdued readings are backed by gentle guitars from Jack Antonoff; the marriage doesn’t over-accentuate the poems’ emotional content but rather works to unify the entire affair and make the record sound less like a reading and more like an intimate, improvisational lounge session. This is also due to the nature of the poems themselves, as their structure is unsurprisingly reminiscent of Beatnik-era literature and language — tangential in form, with an occasional emphasis on repeated phrases, and diaristic in nature. What could easily slip into narcissism is buoyed by often moving insights, even though the experience reflected may be alien to the listener. The best example is album centerpiece “Sportcruiser,” on which Del Rey uses her trepidation during flight and sailing lessons as a metaphor for a general indecisiveness and specific emotional fragility, and ultimately acknowledging the metaphor itself as evidence of the singer-songwriter-poet’s desire to make sense of her life as part of a larger whole. And in plenty of ways, Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is more of the self-awareness and uncompromising aesthetic ethos Del Rey has always presented — a performative critique of decadence and glamor from within. It’s also a return to the abrasive, enticing contradictions of her earliest work, an orientation which tracks with the artist’s PR of late as both the book and spoken word album follow a controversial Instagram statement which was most interesting as a rebuke to the critical ardor predicated by the tonal shift on her last record. In that wake, Del Rey sounds understandably restless on these readings; it might be the sound of a new kind of vulnerability for the singer.
Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q3 2020 Issue – Part 1.