Arts, Review

Lana Del Rey’s Spoken Word Album Enchants Listeners

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lana Del Rey’s much anticipated spoken word album, Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass, delivered a soothing experience, something needed in this time of immense stress. Her calming words produce an effect only slightly different than that of the laidback, sultry ballads of 2019’s Norman F—ng Rockwell and 2014’s Ultraviolence, but this small change shows the audience a completely different side of Del Rey. With this addition, Del Rey proves the power of her words on their own, without any beats or melodies to accompany them.

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass comes in a new—but not altogether surprising—medium for the acclaimed singer. Del Rey experimented with the art of spoken word at the beginning of her “Ride” music video, in which she discussed how “it takes getting everything you ever wanted, and then losing it, to know what true freedom is.” She addresses similar themes of loneliness, fragility, and freedom in Norman F—ng Rockwell. The lack of melody gives these ideas a more honest feel in both “Ride” and Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass.

Most recitations on the album are accompanied by peaceful piano or jazz music from collaborator Jack Antonoff. Some poems even include the buzzing of cars driving by in the background and, in the case of “Bare Feet on Linoleum,” the voices of on-air journalists. The music, in line with Del Rey’s voice, puts the listener in an almost dream-like trance. It is easy to listen to this album and get lost in thought, either Del Rey’s or your own. 

Del Rey is a visual artist as well as a writer and songwriter. For this reason, she accompanied her album with a poetry and photography book. The book of Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass contains more long-form poems than the album, and even a collection of haikus. She provides an array of photographs, taken of anything from an old stove with a vase of flowers on top to a photo of a lady lying on the beach with a book over her face. The book is complete with a series of lined pages, where the reader can add their own poems, and a series of oil paintings created by Erika Lee Sears, the artist behind the cover art. 

The book begins with its eponymous poem: “Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass.” This is a sweet poem about a girl named Violet, whose free-spirited backbend inspires Del Rey to forget her preconceived notions and just “do nothing about everything / forever.” 

The audiobook differs in that it starts with the poem “LA Who Am I To Love You.” In this poem, Del Rey is honest about her uncertainty and longing for a reciprocated love. The desperation of the poem is emphasized through Del Rey’s emotional reading of lines such as “LA! / I’m pathetic / but so are you / can I come home now?” This theme of loneliness and homesickness is abundant in many of Del Rey’s works.  

Del Rey’s spoken performance of the poem gives a more authentic take than the book version. When reciting the poem, Del Rey adds a few words, takes out some others, and even skips lines all together. Some of these changes are noted on the pages in the book, which are mostly scans of Del Ray’s typewriter written poems. These annotations are most abundant on “Quiet Waiter – Blue Forever.”

The poem that stands out the most on the album is “Bare Feet on Linoleum.” While the music accompanying the other poems creates a feeling of serenity, the background noise of this final poem evokes confusion and urgency. The TV journalists in the background are reciting lines such as “people love my work,” giving us the sense that Del Rey is trying to reassure herself of the same notion. This idea is emphasized as Del Rey recites the last lines in the track, “I love my stories. People love my stories.” Even the way Del Rey reads the poem suggests a different feeling. She reads all of them with an intensity, but on this track, she sounds almost exasperated. 

“Bare Feet on Linoleum” opens with a line about Sylvia Plath, who was known for her sense of loneliness and distaste for society. “Stay on your path Sylvia Plath / Don’t fall away like all the others.” It’s as if Del Rey is giving herself the same warning.

While Del Rey’s poems are not yet comparable to those of Sylvia Plath, who she references often in her works, they are not trying to be. Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass is imbued with a sense of authenticity and hope. These days, that’s enough.

Photo Courtesy of Interscope Records

October 4, 2020