Lana Del Rey. Oh, Lana Del Rey, elegant, cool, collected queen and master of the sultry pop scene. That’s if I can narrowly restrict her to a genre for the sake of simplicity, because her music is simply indescribable and transcends the boundaries of many styles like baroque pop, indie, psychedelic rock, dream pop…you get the idea, the list goes on and on (and don’t even get me started on her unreleased material).
I’m sure you’ve heard or at least heard of “Summertime Sadness” at one point or another. It was, after all, a radio hit back in 2012. Never would I ever have even guessed that I would have become a metal fan back in those days, let alone a fan of this pouty, enigmatic artist who appears as if she belongs in the 50’s rather than the 21st century. Yet, here I am, writing a review for her recently released audiobook “Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass” and spinning “Norman F–cking Rockwell!” on my impulsively bought record player for inspiration. It’s the Urban Outfitters special edition, by the way, with the hot pink 2x LPs and the alternate album cover that was supposed to be the original before her manager suggested that she could do better (and I do like the official cover, but the alternate is pretty dope, too).
Now, before I get too caught up in my incessant fangirling that I’m sure all my friends are sick of by this point, let’s get down to business and I’ll give you all a little bit of backstory on this Del Rey woman if you’re a newcomer to her brilliant art. Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, known by her stage name Lana Del Rey, is a native of Manhattan and has released six impeccably composed studio albums since 2012. We could go deeper into her discography and releases under Lizzy Grant, May Jailer and the unreleased material from who-knows-what eras but that’s something for another day.
I’d love to sit here and talk about her music to set the stage for this review but I’m not going to do so for two very good reasons: 1. “Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass” is an audiobook and 2. I have to save something for the “Chemtrails Over The Country Club” review I’ll be writing as soon as that album is released. So, stay tuned, my dear readers, for the whole backstory with details about my introduction to Del Rey and my thoughts on her music; you’ll be getting that in due time. Right now, we’re going to discuss the queen’s absolutely brilliant literary masterpiece.
I’ve always thought of Del Rey as a poet from the first moment I started listening to her music. Just take the lyrics of literally any of her songs and you’ll see what I mean. The way she flawlessly weaves together lyrics, themes, and the instrumentals all into a song…it’s simply indescribable. That’s why when I first heard that she was coming out with a poetry book, I knew it was going to be good. I was but a mere fledgeling in the LDR community at the time (and still am), but knowing how thought-provoking and articulate her music was, I had a good feeling about this book — and I was right.
Del Rey first made her intentions about releasing a poetry book known back in 2018. In December 2019, she announced that a spoken-word audiobook album would be released in January 2020 as an accompaniment.
Unfortunately, due to some personal problems, the January release date was pushed back. On July 9, the final release dates were announced and “Violet” became available for preorder. I remember being incredibly hyped and pre-ordering it in every format except vinyl (once I bought the record player, I pre-ordered the limited edition from Urban Outfitters). The audiobook was released on July 28, 2020, and the hardcover is set to be released on September 29, 2020.
“Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is the title poem of the book and the first poem I wrote of many,” Del Rey said according to her website. “Some of which came to me in their entirety, which I dictated and then typed out, and some that I worked laboriously picking apart each word to make the perfect poem.”
Jack Antonoff, who worked with Del Rey on “Norman”, also composed music for the audiobook. I truly love the fact that she decided to incorporate musical elements on the tracks in this release, because it adds an even dreamier and atmospheric quality to an already surreal-sounding collection of works. I wasn’t surprised to hear that some of Del Rey’s inspirations are Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, and I genuinely think that her poetry is on-par with these notable authors. I only have experience with Ginsberg from highschool AP U.S. History, but I was inspired to buy a complete works of Walt Whitman volume and have been perusing through that at my leisure.
Some of the first words that come to mind in describing the audiobook are serene, profound, psychedelic, and ethereal; it’s a breathtaking work of sheer genius. Whilst listening, you feel like you’re floating in an alternate world, a timeless dimension, experiencing the world in a different way through the eyes of another (even though there are multiple references to real places like Los Angeles, New York, Marina Del Rey, etc). I suppose that’s what all poetry and writing is when it comes down to it: hearing, seeing, feeling things through lenses skillfully and artistically crafted by others. Nonetheless, the poems on “Violet” exhume especially philosophic qualities that make you ponder life, the world around you, and Del Rey’s own life. It’s like we’re getting even deeper but still incomplete glimpses into her mind, making everything all the more intriguing. For those of you that are already fans, I feel that this album is like “Burnt Norton (Interlude)” on steroids, and it makes me reminisce to the “Honeymoon” era.
Another factor that adds to the beauty of this release is the fact that it’s narrated by the queen herself. I’m an avid listener of ASMR, truth be told, and this audiobook is the ultimate epitome of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s like crack: completely addicting, powerful, and utterly entrancing. As opposed to drugs, however, it’s 100% harmless. I often loop the album on repeat when I’m working, trying to fall asleep, or simply trying to relax.
Del Rey’s voice is calm, steady, and soothing, yet vibrant and full of emotion. The way she reads each poem, down to the line, is unique. The tempo, tone, dynamics and other little aspects of her delivery change as she recites each poem. Sometimes her voice is soft and she reads in a drawl and at other times, she projects power, intensity, and fierceness — the transitions are fluid and seamless.
All of the poems have more of a LOFI sound, though the intensity and sound qualities vary from piece to piece. “The Land of 1,000 Fires” and “Salamander” are noticeably LOFI right off the bat. When I close my eyes, I feel I’m listening to poems on a record from the 50’s. I thoroughly enjoy the mixing because the crackles, pops, static and other white noise add to the relaxing vibes. Antonoff’s jazzy interludes, string arrangements, piano chords and other instrumentals also mesh incredibly well with the poems. It’s almost as if the poems are lily pads floating on a river of calm music and other reassuring sounds, like the cricket noises in “Sport Cruiser”. Del Rey describes her poems as being “Eclectic and honest and not trying to be anything other than what they are,” which to me is very wholesome.
My favorite poem is undoubtedly “LA Who Am I to Love You.” The pacing, dynamics, intensity, instrumentation, the words themselves…everything just comes together effortlessly. “The Land of 1,000 Fires,” “Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass,” “Salamander,” “Sport Cruiser,” “Tessa DiPietro” and “Happy” are also strong contenders. I would say that overall, I love all the poems, but I do have one tiny caveat with this release. I wish it weren’t the case, but I really just don’t care for “Bare Feet on Linoleum.” It’s well-composed, but for some reason, listening to it stresses me out instead of calming me down. It’s very intense and chaotic, but I feel as though it’s written to be a “call to action” type piece. It’s also the very last poem on the album, which would support my conclusion.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoy this release and I highly recommend listening to it if you’re a poetry fan, even if you’ve never listened to Del Rey or don’t care for her music all that much. Del Rey’s music in general resonates with me and touches my soul, but her actual spoken word is metaphysical. It’s a little less polished and a little more carefree, spontaneous and raw. Give her a chance to razzle dazzle you, and you surely won’t be disappointed. “Violet Bent Backwards Over The Grass” is a gem and, once again, Del Rey has used her knack for writing, creative flair and heavenly voice to create a truly blissful poetic experience.