For her second full-length release in six months, Lana Del Rey revisits, with a vengeance, the All American, blue jean aesthetic of her early records.
Blue Banister’s title track feels like a hillbilly cousin twice-removed of her breakthrough single Video Games, with Del Rey proceeding, at that familiar languid pace, towards a soaring “oh -oh” chorus.
There are callbacks, also, to her grittiest moment, 2014’s Ultraviolence, with the track Cherry Blossom having its origins as an outtake from that LP (it retains Ultraviolence’s bluesy, bruised quality).
Yet if Del Rey is retreating to recognisable tropes she is mixing things up too. She has parted way, for now at least, from regular producer Jack Antonoff. And she is reported to have scrapped an earlier version of the project, made with Antonoff, to instead work with hip-hop engineer Mike Dean (she also dropped the original album name of Rock Candy Sweet).
Dean recently helped producer Kanye West’s Donda but thankfully Blue Banisters is nothing like that all-devouring ego-pit. It’s Del Rey being Del Rey, with results that will thrill fans even as it perhaps gives ammunition to those who argue that all her songs sound the same.
That reluctance to rip it up and start over might be considered a surprise as she has promised on Instagram Blue Banisters would peel pack the layers and reveal the “real” Lana. “If you’re interested this album does tell [my story] – and does pretty much nothing more.”
Instead, Blue Banisters cycles through well-worn Del Rey touchstones of romantic longing and low-key melancholia “If this is the end, I want a boyfriend,” she croons on Black Bathing Suit, which circles back around to Del Rey’s favourite alter ego of tragic femme fatale.
As with her best songs, it builds to a woozy catharsis as she laments that, “the only thing that fits me is this black bathing suits.”
Sometimes, it is undeniable that she sounds like a singer doing a Lana Del Rey pastiche. “You can come over, lay your hands on me.. like you’re a land rover,” she sings on Arcadia – a couplet not even she can pull off.
Blended through are one or two real surprises. Mariachi horns sampled from Ennio Morricone interweave with a trap beat on Interlude – The Trio (original from the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). And there’s an uncredited lead vocal by Last Shadow Puppet singer Miles Kane on Dealer. Del Rey, swooping in as backing singer, seems shocked he is there.
This tells its own story. Blue Banisters is thoroughly accomplished. But now and then there are suggestions that Del Rey might be about to take a risk and step outside her cheerleader-on-a-swing persona. It's a shame that she never quite follows through.