Filled with complex compositions and astute observations, Mitski has managed to craft a bridge between her older and newer stylistic material. The album has the radiating assurance and disco flare of Be the Cowboy, for example on tracks “Stay Soft” or “Love Me More”, whilst tracks such as “Valentine, Texas” and “Heat Lightening” are more derivative of her rich, gloomy and delicately haunting vocals heard on earlier albums such as Puberty 2.
The mammoth success of 2018’s Be the Cowboy catapulted Mitski into new heights of fame, a key theme we hear throughout Laurel Hell. Almost as if to mimic her life in the spotlight, the album consists of many catchy, upbeat songs with heavier lyrics expressing her inner discontent at this heightened success. As heard on “Working for The Knife” Mitski bares “I start the day lying then end with the truth / that I’m dying for the knife.” Her art of giving listeners just enough of a glimpse into her life whilst masking with a catchy hook is present throughout the album. Even the album title Laurel Hell tells us of the anguish surrounding her victory and achievements, a clever divulgence to anyone paying attention.
Laurel Hell also takes on a whole new frenzied approach to Mitski’s witty and self-deprecating lyricism. Take album single “The Only Heartbreaker” where Mitski deliberately casts herself as a villain: “I’ll be the bad guy in the play / I’ll be the watermains that bursts into flames.”
She continues to cleverly play into this antagonistic narrative throughout the rest of the album. On tracks “Should’ve Been Me” where she boasts about how much people will miss her and, similarly, on “Love Me More”, a twisted pop song, the lyrics portray utter vanity and narcissism and Mitski’s need for love and attention despite her hope that she could still be “a new girl.”
Whilst Laurel Hell doesn’t necessarily feel like a new Mitski album, her talent as a songwriter is strong enough to support these new contexts to her storytelling. Her cleverly crafted lyrics captivates listeners without ruining her enigmatic persona. It is this careful balance seen on Laurel Hell that makes us feel we know Mitski whilst wondering if we really know her well at all.