Everything Lana Del Rey does is cinematic and with careful intention; she's spent so much of her career crafting and redefining personas, constantly mediating herself. Her eighth studio album, Blue Banisters, is accordingly cinematic and controlled, but this time around, the control is geared toward being carefully unmediated, toward telling stories of her real past. This album is pure autobiography and that's what makes it all the more sad, bluer than anything else Del Rey has ever produced.
With Blue Banisters, Del Rey gives us Elizabeth Grant, unfettered: an impassioned woman whose façade is cracking at the edges as she remembers her traumas, like a tired lounge singer jaded by the nightclub's smoke.
In the decade since her major-label debut Born to Die, Lana Del Rey has worked so quickly and consistently, navigating so many passing controversies and thorny conversations, that it has been easy to take for granted her steady evolution as an artist. The 36-year-old musician recently took a break from social media, allowing herself an uncharacteristically quiet press cycle, and there she sits on the cover of her second album of 2021, Blue Banisters, nestled between two German shepherds, serene and pastoral, removed from the world. Things, for the moment, seem peaceful.
For nearly a decade, Lana Del Rey has confessionally traced her movie script migration from the chilly shores of New York to the singed hills of Los Angeles, via miles and miles of county fair and diner-dotted heartland, winning scores of fans and plenty of detractors along her way. While still the expected summerly slice of self-mythologized Americana, Del Rey's second album in seven months feels somehow different from the rest. The sense of yearning melancholia and damaged nostalgia inherent in each release since her stunning 2012-released debut album, Born to Die, feels more raw on Blue Banisters, pushing itself through the typically neon-projected screen of her previous work, its heartache and disillusionment standing stark, devoid of all pretensions.
Dig deeper, however, and you'll find this record was years in the making. "Nectar of the Gods" and "Cherry Blossom", both of which leaked in 2019, can be traced all the way back to the Ultraviolence recording sessions. The former - one of several tracks co-written by her ex-boyfriend Barrie-James O'Neill - finds parallels with "Cruel World", with Lana proudly declaring "I get wild and fucking crazy".
Whatever your opinion of Lana, no one can deny her impact. Exploding onto the scene to basically launch the entire sad indie girl genre, she created a phenomenon and then continued to abandon it at every step. Always a movement ahead, no one can truly keep up with her level of romanticism or reference as she's shifted from Lolita, to 1920s art deco flappers to Easy Rider Americana and beyond.