This week, Lana Del Rey’s Norman F—king Rockwell! comes out swinging as a statement of American despair over languid, beautiful melodies. Plus, Post Malone is back — this time with something more like a ballad — on the emotional “Circles.” Pop-soul singer Mapei puts forward a motivational anthem in “Rise Up.” Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical releases its original cast recording, offering up access to their creative mash-ups of pop hits through the ages. And rock band Whitney’s sophomore album couches sadness in folksy sweetness on “Friend of Mine.”
“Happiness Is a Butterfly,” Lana Del Rey
It’s been a long road to Norman F—king Rockwell!, the sixth album from pop singer-philosopher Lana Del Rey; the first single, “Mariners Apartment Complex,” came out nearly a whole year ago. Over the course of 14 songs, Del Rey — with production assistance from recent Taylor Swift collaborator Jack Antonoff — continues to fill out the dark but glamorous contours of her universe of decaying Americana. “Happiness Is a Butterfly” is spare but intense, with Del Rey crooning her poetic lyrics with lilting affect over pretty piano. It could be a love song; after all, Del Rey has always had a fixation on bad men. But all those bad men also function pretty well as stand-ins for the darkness she — and we — sometimes flirt with. “If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst that could happen to a girl that’s already hurt?” she wonders. “I’m already hurt.” Nihilism has rarely sounded so sweet.
“Circles,” Post Malone
Post Malone has become a chart mainstay on the strength of his down-tempo rap hits like “Rockstar” and “Psycho,” songs that describe a kind of debauched malaise over fuzzy hip-hop production. “Circles,” a new release off his upcoming September album Hollywood’s Bleeding, clears the air a bit. In the vein of some of his most emotionally appealing early hits off of Stoney, “Circles” sees Post entering more traditional pop territory. There’s a nice acoustic guitar intro, a juicy bass line and a catchy chorus melody, over which a still-melancholy Post Malone finds his voice. “Seasons change and our love went cold,” he admits, “Feed the flame ’cause we can’t let it go.” The song is as satisfying as its singer is frustrated.
“Rise Up,” Mapei
Mapei doesn’t fit easy description: born in America, raised in Sweden, with a distinctly cross-genre sound that pulls from electro-pop, soul and dance. “Rise Up,” her latest, is both gospel and undeniable pump-up jam. It starts with an uplifting message over a handclap rhythm: “Life is like a sun, shining just for you/ It goes up and it goes down, speaking of the truth.” Then she bursts into the title refrain, a phrase she connects with the advice of her activist father, before letting the track break into an infectious tropical-house beat. It’s hard not to find joy in her message.
“Crazy Rolling,” Moulin Rouge Original Broadway Recording Soundtrack
It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the original 2001 Moulin Rouge! movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor or the stage adaptation of the story, recently debuted on Broadway starring Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo: You’ll still know the words to the songs that make up the musical’s heart, because each track is an artful mashup of pop hits from across the decades. The Broadway production brings together over 70 different songs in a Frankenstein masterwork, updated for 2019. (See: song segments from Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, The Postal Service, Adele, Lorde, P!nk, Sia and more.) “Crazy Rolling” is one of the most memorable of the new compositions: the mix of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” is seamless and powerful; instead of hopscotching from style to style (as in the “Elephant Love Medley”), the two songs blend as if they belonged together all along, with propulsive theatrical rock-pop orchestration and all-in vocal performances from Tveit and Olivo.
“Friend of Mine,” Whitney
Chicago-based rock band Whitney’s latest offerings end up being a bit of a musical bait-and-switch: The folksy, richly-orchestrated, easy-listening tunes feel like a warm bath at first. But listen a little closer, and you’ll notice that the sweet sound of songs like “Friend of Mine” off their sophomore album Forever Turned Around belies a lyrical sadness. “Turn around now and then you’ll see/ That your world’s gonna leave you behind,” they shrug. “You’re still a friend of mine, but you’re driftin’ away.” It’s a lament but it doesn’t hold any bitterness, only tender honesty.