There’s a brand new Lana Del Rey album out today. As I’m typing up this newsletter, I’m listening to it for the first time. So this is not a review. A preview at best. But the reason I’m mentioning this now – and in this way – is because this is the first Lana Del Rey record that has been released since I’ve been a fan.
I’m often asked about times I got it wrong, or when I did a flip-flop. Whenever I’ve appeared on a panel or been part of a Q&A – and we are talking a small handful of times by the way – I’m asked about times when I regretted giving something a bad review, or an example of when I can admit to ‘getting it wrong’ or that sort of thing.
The example I’ve often given is Tami Neilson. I hated her first album. Wasn’t so into the second. But then I gave a rave review to one of her records. So much so that I got a note from Tami. She then agreed to chat with me on my podcast – and we had a wonderful conversation. She even held me to my early opinion of her earliest recordings. We worked through some stuff. It was great.
Writing reviews isn’t about being ‘right’. It’s about processing music and giving an honest opinion in the moment. That’s how I always saw it anyway. And opinions are fluid – particularly ones about music. There’s wiggle room. You can change. I was reminiscing with someone just yesterday, about the times when your parents bought LPs and a new record in the house was an event. If it wasn’t much chop, there was disappointment. Sure. But you also just listened to it until you liked it. The budget dictated.
Decades of reviewing music – receiving it for ‘free’ and before anyone else did (both time-wise and cost-wise) – made it hard, sometimes, to revisit things, to spend lots of time with something. You published and were damned. And people told you in the comments to spend more time with something and maybe you’d come around. And you sometimes promised that you would. And then you basically never did. Not out of spite or glee – just because there were always more albums and the pile never diminished.
Now the pile has diminished. The only one putting pressure on me to review – is me. And I have – this year – slowed right down on album-reviewing. I’m finding other things to write about and other ways to write about music. I write poems that focus on music. I write short blog posts that revisit older tunes. I write this newsletter. I still review. I always will. It’s hardwired. But I don’t feel a pressure to churn in the way I once did. And it was only me that could break that spell.
With that, comes a chance to look – now – at a few more times when I ‘got it wrong’. When I was too harsh or gave up too early, defaulted to sharp-tongued lines in place of analysis.
And a prime example is Lana Del Rey.
I acknowledged this last year with reviews of her new product.
But let’s go back to the start…
When Video Games was everywhere I just didn’t get it. This bored, detached voice and presence. And if I wanted that I could listen to Julee Cruise, and it worked better for me. I also homed in – as reviewers do – on the fact that Del Rey had previously released music as Lizzy Grant. Earnest singer/songwriter stuff that went nowhere. I was reviewing at the time and working in music retail. I remember the Lizzy Grant music being a failure. I saw the whole change of demeanour – and look and feel – to Lana Del Rey as an escape. I saw it in the negative. A caricature. People told me that Bob Dylan was really Robert Zimmerman and why didn’t I point that out. It wasn’t news because he hadn’t released failure-records as Zimmerman. He had invented Bob Dylan and lived inside it forever.
But that was just me being sexist.
Once you dismiss something that people love you are their enemy. Particularly when you’re writing reviews in the paper and then on a national website – as I was. And I was always comfortable with this (because it was the role) and never got off on it (as I’m sure many people assumed).
But with Lana Del Rey, it was like I kinda wanted to like the music. But couldn’t. And didn’t. And then the earliest reviews I’d given were so damning, and I had played the person, not the ball (apparently) so the Stan-fans were out for my blood. And if you didn’t know, Lana Del Rey’s Stans are among the scariest. They hit you with the logic that you’re sexist. And with the logic that as a white, straight male you cannot be the target market or even in the ballpark of the demographic (though they won’t ever challenge a straight, white male that is a fan already). And then there are the ones that don’t even try for anything resembling logic.
Out of nowhere last year I started getting Twitter blowback for reviews I’d written in 2015 and 2017 – why did people care so much? Couldn’t they just dig the music and not dig me?
But no. I was bugging their happiness. I was a Lana Hater, and the world should have no such things. I needed to get with the program and realise her genius.
Around this time – and completely unrelated – something very weird happened. Basically, I recognised Lana Del Rey’s genius. I got with the program.
I listened to her then-new album, Normal Fucking Rockwell, and I Fucking Loved It!
I listened to her audiobook of poetry and fell under its spell too (perhaps less of a stretch, often been a fan of spoken-word recordings; that said, there are so many that are very, very bad).
Next up I had the poetry book, and I joked that of all the curveballs 2020 had thrown up for us all, owning a Lana Del Rey album on vinyl was not one I saw coming!
I was careful to frame that review of Norman Fucking Rockwell as an apology of sorts. Because you can refresh your browser all you like but even if you delete aspects of your past, the internet remembers your history. And drags it up in front of you like they’ve invited you for dinner and decided to force feed you the roadkill you happened to unknowingly collect on the way over.
So my plan was never to present as a Lana Del Rey fan, nor to suggest that I was misunderstood. Merely to suggest I may have misunderstood her previously, but more honestly, I just didn’t get it, the music previously had not grabbed me. And now it had. I was ready for it. I also think she happened to have pulled out her best work. That helped. Always reward and rave the very best work a person does eh. It’s really that simple.
So, now I find myself, writing all of this – instead of a review – and the new Lana Del Rey album is on in the background. I can already hear that I like it. Enough. And will give it a few more spins and think about writing an actual review. There are, at the very least, two or three really great songs.
It hasn’t knocked me out on first listen the way the last two did. But the quality-control is still high, the production is still the right kind of slick and the voice is now there, the way I found it to be ‘there’ on the previous recent releases.
I’m fan enough to be curious, to be interested.
And so I just wanted to say that. And wave the album under your nose as something to listen today.
Maybe you’re way ahead of me and already anticipating it. Maybe you were never a fan and still don’t have interest in her. Well, that’s fine either way. It’s just music after all. There are no right answers.
But it’s Friday. And so there are playlists. Well, just the one I’ve made actually. The regular one for your weekend – a Long Weekend if you’re in New Zealand. Happy Labour Weekend. And please enjoy volume 35 of A Little Something For The Weekend