Review Summary: If this is it, I had a ballNorman Fucking Rockwell!
is an album all about endings. In ways both subtle and obvious, Elizabeth Grant imbues her greatest achievement to date with poetic allusions to death. Whether it’s The Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson drowning at Marina Del Rey, which she delicately coins as his “last stop before Kokomo” (in this case, the fictional island symbolizes the unknown ether of post-existence), the figurative death of culture expressed through Kanye West dyeing his hair blonde (while seemingly losing all sense/sanity afterwards), or something as simple as a waning summer afternoon (“As the summer fades away, nothing gold can stay”), Norman Fucking Rockwell!
suffers no shortage of metaphors. All of these people, seasons, or ideas once burned fervently, but they eventually lost their fire. Put in plainer terms, it’s an “all good things must come to an end” axiom. At one point she compares this inevitable cycle to nights spent partying and getting high, singing, “Those nights were on fire / We couldn't get higher / We didn't know that we had it all…”, recalling a youthful vibrance or drug/alcohol-induced high that can’t last forever, eventually cautioning – “But nobody warns you before the fall.” Norman Fucking Rockwell!
represents a universal sadness centered around loss – in this case, of seasons, relationships, highs, fame, and entire civilizations...they’re all transient. Thus, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
is a gorgeous blurring of these concepts that arrives at an aching realization about the present: we’re all we’ve got, and tomorrow is no guarantee.
The result is something of an apathetic apocalypse. You can’t turn the clocks back to yesterday, and that orange glow with billowing smoke on the horizon doesn’t look promising, so what’s left to do besides drink, smoke, and fuck? In a lot of ways, it feels like the damage is already done – to the planet, to common decency, to each other – and can’t be repaired. A famous post-rock artist once said: We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death
. It’s this fatal purgatory where we’re literally just passing the time until something
sets off a chain of horrific events. There’s a permeating sense of dread and paranoia that we’re going to live to see the grand finale, which is why, perhaps unintentionally, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
speaks to us so fluently. Grant’s potent ambiguities are just tangible enough to latch onto – these elegiac ballads that quietly accept defeat as we stare down the ocean, our collective ship sinking. It’s our Nearer, My God, to Thee
Yet, Lana Del Rey does not seem too concerned. Maybe it’s because she never intended for this album to be a vessel for our panic. After all, Norman Fucking Rockwell!
isn’t in itself political; it merely lights the fire upon which we willingly throw our perceptions like kindling. It’s the sort of catalytic art that can ignite anything from revolution to apathy. It merely depends on who the onlookers are. In a world where tensions are at an all-time high, a piece that so eloquently expresses futility and hopeless damnation could serve as a rallying cry for last ditch revolutionaries who still see equal rights, the environment, or world peace as salvageable. After all, even just a little hope is a dangerous thing, and when Elizabeth Grant triumphantly sings, "When everyone's talking, you can make a stand", you can almost witness her transformation from hopeless tribute to mockingjay. On the stoic closer and veritable women's rights anthem, she dreamily prophesizes that "There's a new revolution, a loud evolution that I saw...", and again, one can't help but wonder if all of the apathy was merely a smokescreen designed to cover these subtly immersed, almost covert messages of unifying revolution. Or, maybe that's insane - but again, provocative art in the right setting is capable of eliciting such reactions. It's both dangerous and incredibly important.