Lana Del Rey has been one of the most polarizing artists in the 21st century pop world. Questions of authenticity have dogged her for her entire career, from criticisms of her so called adopted persona to her supposed affections supporting it. Every move has been ripe for attack. Criticism has often come wrapped in a thin veil of sexism; the fact is, her career blueprint is not much different from that of David Bowie’s. He was as calculated and theatrical in regards to his persona and product as they come, but the credibility of the music he produced was never in question.
The latest Del Rey album, Norman Fucking Rockwell! is not the work of a persona or a character; it is an open, brazen modern day love letter to the classically cynical, gorgeous California pop of the ’70s. Gone are the echo laden, girl group, Blue Velvet vibes that personified her previous recordings, Del Rey instead meshes lyrically caustic, in your face vocals with memorable melodies resting somewhere between post Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys and early ’70’s Joni Mitchell and wears her passion for these sounds on her sleeve. Prince once said when it came to making music, he would look at what his contemporaries were doing and go the other way. Del Rey is going the other way.
Her current tour feels like a grand reintroduction and one of the more spectacular manifestations of this love she is showing to that aforementioned California sound as well as esteemed singer songwriters in general (she just brought Joan Baez onstage a couple nights ago). On recent tour dates, she has been covering Mitchell’s self-flagellating ballad “For Free,” from 1970’s Ladies Of The Canyon. Del Rey’s version is spare, heartfelt and vocally impressive, showing genuine reverence to the original singer and songwriter.
She has teased the possibility of a potential covers album, which she’s speculatively titled Pacific Blue (likely referencing the classic 1977 Dennis Wilson solo LP), and on which she’d potentially feature “acoustic Beach Boys, Chris Isaak, and Elvis” amongst others. The prospect of this is incredibly enticing and coupled with Chaka Khan’s forthcoming Joni tribute album make for some potentially earthshaking covers to look forward to.
Watch a video of her live cover of “For Free” below and then, just posted this morning, a more intimate clip of her covering the same song sitting with Weyes Blood and Zella Day.