Lana Del Rey tweeted at the end of April this year: “I’m writing my own story. And no one can tell it but me.” After years of controversy the enigmatic singer-songwriter has left a trail of breadcrumbs leading to her most introspective album yet. Blue Banisters is Del Rey escaping into herself through vulnerability, using abstract ideas and abstract melody to create an album that is both captivating and feral.
Blue Banisters is Del Rey’s eighth studio album and her second release of the year after Chemtrails over the Country Club. Where Chemtrails dealt with themes of nostalgia and disillusionment; Blue Banisters is a prideful take on self-acceptance and what it means to be alone. The stripped-down aesthetic aura of the album floods itself with intimacy and dulcet offerings. Largely piano accompaniment; Blue Banisters creates a haunting atmosphere that pulls us deeper and deeper into Del Rey’s psyche.
All of the songs on Blue Banisters take place in the present day. As with Del Rey’s previous albums, there is a cinematic landscape that manifests itself with her lyrical stylings and majestic flourishes. Del Rey fashions scenes not with lyrics but with atmospheric mood; what is left out is as important as what is left in. The album opens with the standout track Text Book, a track that is supernatural in terms of vocal performance and ambiance. The unwieldly and off-balance timings of the track enthrals the listener and creates a dream-like carousel that we never want to leave. The lyrics address Del Rey’s issues with her absent father in a therapeutic whisper: “You’ve got a Thunderbird, my daddy had one too.” The comparisons that she wishes she could make to her father are only of material things.
This idea of emptiness is found in the title track Blue Banisters, where the uncomplicated, trance-like keyboards takes us through Del Rey’s most recent heartache. She proclaims she was sold a lie by a man who didn’t return: “Said he’d fix my weathervane / Give me children, take away my pain / And paint my banisters blue / My banisters blue.” The imagery of banisters symbolising prison bars. Her partner promising to paint her banisters blue illustrates trust, trust that Del Rey can be herself and let her guard down around him. As this trust is lost, Del Rey is nursed and guided back to health by her friends who help paint her banisters green; the colour of rebirth. Del Rey can continue to grow and experience vulnerability with the guiding hands of womanhood.
The album and necessity for unity feels like a time capsule for our pandemic life. Violets for Roses begins with the lines: “The girls are running ‘round in summer dresses / With their masks off / And it makes me so happy” and in Black Bathing Suit Del Rey asserts overindulgence and the need to feel comfortable in a domestic setting. These glimpses of realism manifest a feeling of togetherness, of being a part of a shared conversation. Her song writing as well as her creative process has become more streamlined, more original in terms of expression. This originality can be found in the inventive, chaotic spells dotted throughout the album, particularly in the aforementioned Black Bathing Suit where a choir of howling voices fire back at Del Rey as she sings the chorus. These occurrences fit perfectly in our present, chaotic world and they are mesmerising to hear.
There are some misfires on the album such as Cherry Blossom and Living Legend. Both of these tracks feel empty and awkward amongst Blue Banisters. Delving a little deeper we find that both songs were written in 2013 and so this may explain the feeling of intrusion. Nonetheless these two tracks do little to take away from what Del Rey has accomplished with Blue Banisters. The creativity achieved using a stripped down aesthetic deserves to be applauded. Del Rey bewitches her audience with intimacy and vocal performances that show us why she is so revered by her peers. The vivid imagery and atmospheric nature of Blue Banisters feels like Del Rey is following the bread crumbs back to what made Video Games so special in 2012. She is an original artist with a contradictory past but a future that is certain.