Song of the Day #4,715: ‘Dark But Just a Game’ – Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey released one of the best album’s of the previous decade with 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell, a sadly romantic ode to a country on the brink of disaster. The disaster at the time was Trump’s presidency and a climate crisis that had set California ablaze, but the album only grew more resonant in the face of the pandemic.

Following up that masterpiece was a tall order. Del Rey didn’t have a realistic shot at topping what will likely be her crowning achievement, but with this year’s Chemtrails Over the Country Club, she has managed to both build on and stray from the sound of its predecessor.

Working again with producer Jack Antonoff (whose stamp is on many of the best albums of this millennium, particularly those by women), Del Rey has delivered a set of lush compositions that mine familiar sonic territory. If there’s a knock on her, it’s the lack of variety in her sound, but she consistently manages to find new ways to skin the same cat.

Here, Del Rey explores her experience with fame, at times longing for the days before she was a target for both admirers and haters alike. “When I was a waitress wearing a white dress… down at the Men in Music Business Conference, down in Orlando, I was only nineteen,” she purrs on opening track ‘White Dress,’ describing a time when she was hopelessly naive but also fully free (and playfully tweaking the industry’s male dominance for good measure).

On today’s track, which drew inspiration from a comment by Antonoff about the music industry, her voice soars as she cries “don’t even want what’s mine, much less the fame.”

The album’s closing track is a cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘For Free,’ a song about a street performer whose talent is overlooked by people who don’t know him from TV.

Apart from the meditations on celebrity, another focus of this album is collaborations with women. That Mitchell cover is performed by Del Rey, Zella Day and Weyes Blood, with each singer taking a verse. ‘Breaking Up Slowly’ is a song co-written and performed with country singer Nikki Lane. And ‘Dance Til We Die’ name-drops Mitchell, Joan Baez and Stevie Nicks.

Chemtrails Over the Country Club might find Del Rey turning her back on fame and seeking comfort in familiar friends, but the result is an album on par with some of her best work. In or out of the spotlight, she continues to shine.

[Verse 1]
“It’s dark, but just a game”
That’s what he would say to me
The faces aren’t the same, but their stories all end tragically
(Sweet or whatever, baby)
And that’s the price of fame
A tale as old as time you’d be (Sweet or whatever, baby)
A pretty little fool to think exceptions to the rule
Just walk around like you and me, this way
But life is sweet or whatever, baby
You gotta take them for what they got
And while the whole world is crazy
We’re getting high in the parking lot

[Chorus]
Wе keep changing all the time
The bеst ones lost their minds
So I’m not gonna change
I’ll stay the same
No rose left on the vines
Don’t even want what’s mine
Much less the fame
It’s dark, but just a game
It’s dark, but just a game

[Verse 2]
It’s dark, but just a game
So play it like a symphony
You know our love’s the same, they’ll both go down in infamy
I was a pretty little thing and God, I loved to sing
But nothing came from either one but pain (But fuck it)
Life is sweet or whatever, baby
Don’t ever think it’s not
While the whole world is crazy
We’re making out in the parking lot

[Chorus]
We keep changing all the time
The best ones lost their minds
So I’m not gonna change
I’ll stay the same
No rose left on the vines
Don’t even want what’s mine
Much less the fame
It’s dark, but just a game

We keep changing all the time
The best ones lost their minds
So I’m not gonna change
I’ll stay the same
No rose left on the vines
Don’t even want what’s mine
Much less the fame
It’s dark, but just a game
It’s dark, but just a game
It’s dark, but just—

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,715: ‘Dark But Just a Game’ – Lana Del Rey

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    It’s great to see so many female singer-songwriters putting out such great work, clearly inspired by those women like Mitchell and Nicks who came before.

  2. Amy says:

    I’d like to see more of them wanting to challenge the tragic ending narrative, though I suppose just committing to making albums is that challenge.

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