The fact that the first official release from Lana Del Rey after her career-threatening social media tirades is a spoken word album is baffling, hilarious, and just peak Lana. After being painted by naysayers and even many of her own fans as a rich, cop loving “Karen”, she releases a project that just validates her critics. While I still find her now-infamous Instagram post tone-deaf and offensive, I love that Lana does not let outside factors like her haters affect her artistic path. She wanted to release a poetry album, so (after seven months of delays) here it is!
On to the album itself, ‘Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass’ is actually incredibly enjoyable. Like in her music, Lana balances bouts of relatable introspection with that extra-ness that even the best Lana content contains. For anyone asking if ‘Violet’ is really a Lana Del Rey album or a side project by Elizabeth Grant herself, the title of opening poem “LA Who Am I to Love You?” gives a pretty resounding answer. On that poem, Lana says, “LA who am I to love you, I have nothing to give”. Like many of the poems on the album, her words synthesize the old-Hollywood imagery surrounding Lana Del Rey’s entire persona with fundamental feelings like confusion or loneliness that many can relate to. Many of the poems here show a great deal of profundity not unlike that on songs like “Cruel World” or “Mariners Apartment Complex”. One especially visceral motif is her desperate search for a meaning in life, which is particularly reflective in the title poem as well as “SportCruiser” and “happy”. Even when she is not particularly profound, Lana’s imagery-laden words are colorful, witty, and emotional, keeping the album very engaging. The highlights are “Never to Heaven” and “Paradise is Very Fragile”, and the second poem evokes the underlying idea behind last year’s “Happiness is a butterfly”. Meanwhile, although there are some typically clunky Lana lines spread across the fourteen poems, they do not inhibit the listening experience at all.
The best spoken word albums can be satisfying listens even if the listener is not interpreting the words the speaker is saying, and ‘Violet’ achieves that goal with Lana’s soothing voice paired to Jack Antonoff’s predictably great music. Antonoff mostly utilizes a piano, with soft guitars and other basic instruments occasionally being strewn into the mix as well. Those who have heard the prolific producer’s latest projects know he thrives on simplicity. Truthfully, some of the instrumentals here are not drastically different from some of the music on ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ Vocally (Verbally?), Lana’s speaking voice is relaxing and honest, and one can tell that she wrote the words speaking herself; she is no interpreter here, and the poems are spoken from the heart.
The only issue with ‘Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass’ is that I cannot take Lana seriously. The poems are well written and impactful, the music is good, and knowing her wild life, Lana’s delivery is believable, but at times I laugh at the idea of one of the most influential pop stars of the last decade speaking a poem to me over a coffeeshop-style piano track. Listening to the album brings up an interesting discussion about fame and the artists we make famous. Once someone like Lana releases music and we become accustomed to the the god-like conception that accompanies fame, is it really possible for them to release artful, intimate projects like this and still be taken seriously? As much as I enjoyed this spoken word album, I am not sure what the answer to that question is, and I have a hard time separating Lana’s words on ‘Violet’ from the conception I have of Lana Del Rey, the celebrity.
Still, there is no doubt that Lana Del Rey has made a great spoken word album, and many of the poems are truly interesting and impactful listens. Regardless of your personal opinion on Lana, she has a gift for writing, whether that be songs or poems, and it is great to see her be one of the few modern mainstream artists to use their talent in other areas.