Elizabeth Woolridge Grant made an immediate impact on popular culture with her 2011 debut single ‘Video Games’, released under her stage name Lana Del Rey. Her haunting lower register and cinematic feel, chronicling a one-sided relationship. the single immediately established her as an artist with a unique voice. Her moody and lyric-focused music has influenced a subsequent generation of artists – she’s paved the way for other female artists like Lorde, Olivia Rodrigo, and Billie Eilish.
Despite her influence, Del Rey’s studio discography can be frustrating. She’s strongest at moody torch songs and would be best served by concise 40-minute albums, but the majority of the records on the list below run for over an hour. She’s always fascinating, however, an auteur with a clear vision of doomed love and fading American glamour. She’s also developed as an artist – her most recent four albums are generally much stronger than her first four.
I’ve only included Del Rey’s major-label studio albums on this list. This excludes her unavailable 2010 self-released debut, Lana Del Ray, as well as her poetry album Violet Bent Backwards over the Grass.
Lana Del Rey Albums Ranked
#8 Born to Die
Del Rey’s major-label debut was an immediate success – she’d already paved the way with the single ‘Video Games’. She’s already formed her lyrical persona, with her fatalistic romanticism and her references to a lost Americana of the 1950s and 1960s. But the music isn’t as dignified and sophisticated as it would become on subsequent releases – dabbling with fast tempos and hip hop beats on ‘Off to the Races’ doesn’t work. There’s still a clutch of strong tracks here – along with ‘Video Games’, Born to Die ends strongly with ‘Summertime Sadness’ and ‘This Is What Makes Us Girls’.
#7 Lust for Life
Del Rey’s fourth major-label album is her least focused. It runs over seventy minutes and is stacked with guest appearances including ASAP Rocky, Stevie Nicks, Sean Ono Lennon, and The Weeknd. The sunnier feel is welcome, and her duet with The Weeknd on the title track is one of her strongest songs. Radiohead filed a lawsuit over the closing track ‘Get Free’, due to its similarity to their 1993 single ‘Creep’.
#6 Blue Banisters
Del Rey’s seventh major-label album was her second record of 2021. It serves as a clearing house for outtakes – songs like ‘Nectar of the Gods’ and ‘Cherry Blossom’ date back to the sessions for 2014’s Ultraviolence, while ‘Dealer’ and ‘Thunder’ come from a scrapped 2017 collaboration with English supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. With diverse material and little thematic unity, Blue Banisters feels less significant than her best work, but it’s a fun trawl through her oeuvre, an enjoyable minor work
Lana Del Rey’s work has always expressed nostalgia, and it’s most explicit on Honeymoon. The vintage album cover, the Hollywood strings, and the fatalistic love affairs recall the 1950s more than any other Del Rey record. Like every Del Rey album, Honeymoon is a little overlong, but it’s gorgeous when Del Rey leans into the string-laden sound on songs like ‘Salvatore’ and ‘The Blackest Day’. Despite the sunny cover and retro sound, there’s a dark undercurrent to songs like ‘Music to Watch Boys To’ – the line “I like you a lot” is followed by “and I do what you want”.
#4 Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Lana Del Rey’s first album of 2021 is her tightest and most focused collection, even if it doesn’t hit the heights of her strongest records. It’s more low-key than usual – the cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free’ helps to make Chemtrails feel like a 1970s singer-songwriter album. Her falsetto is gorgeous on the opening ‘White Dress’, while ‘Let Me Love You Like a Woman’ is a pretty torch song. The enjoyably weird ‘Tulsa Jesus Freaks’ is the record’s best song.
On the followup to her commercial breakthrough Born to Die, Del Rey collaborated with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Auberach’s guitar and production furnishes Del Rey with an alternative rock sound. Ultraviolence is the strong album that Del Rey needed to cement her reputation after early success. It starts strongly with the atmospheric ‘Cruel World’, ‘West Coast’ is a more convincing dabble with hip hop beats than anything on Born to Die, while the title track references the Carole King-penned ‘He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)’.
#2 Norman F****** Rockwell!
Del Rey collaborated with Jack Antonoff on her fifth major-label album. It often recalls the 1970s Laurel Canyon sound, with a mellow, piano-centric sound. Like most of Del Rey’s albums, NFR! is overlong, but there’s some sublime material – and not just the cover of Sublime’s ‘Doin’ Time’. ‘Mariner’s Apartment Complex’ nails the Laurel Canyon vibe while the lengthy ‘Venice Bitch’ ends with a gorgeous psychedelic jam.
#1 Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
In a recent chat with Billie Eilish for Interview magazine, Lana Del Rey explained that Norman F***ing Rockwell was painstaking world-building, while Tunnel is “straight vibing”. There’s a relaxed feel – the first songs emerged from Sunday morning jam sessions with a guitarist friend. There were hip hop influences on Del Rey’s early albums, but they’re back and more mature on tracks like A&W and Peppers, while ‘Sweet’ has some folk music in its DNA. This diversity helps Tunnel to remain engaging over almost 80 minutes of running time. Despite the more relaxed feel, Tunnel feels weighty; Del Rey describes the album as sharing her innermost thoughts.
What’s your favourite Lana Del Rey album?
More from Aphoristic Album Reviews
Aphoristic Album Reviews is almost entirely written by one person.
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate both Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Based in Fleet Street (New Zealand), he's been writing this blog since around 2000. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.
Read about the discographies of musical acts from the 1960s to the present day. Browse this site's review archives or enjoy these random selections:
I add new blog posts to this website every week. Browse the archives or enjoy these random selections: