Album Review

Lana Del Rey - Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

A record that plays out like a Tennessee Williams drama, with all its restless, unsure inbetweens left in.

Lana Del Rey - Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

Nestled within ‘Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd’ is some of Lana Del Rey’s best work - and not just because it somewhat bafflingly ends with a chunk of a lifetime-peak track (‘Venice Bitch’) that she already released five years ago. Amongst the sprawling, 16-song tracklist - an album as winding as its title that clocks in at 77 minutes but often feels like more - are concise moments you might more traditionally associate with the production touch of omnipresent pop magic-sprinkler Jack Antonoff (who sits behind the desk on much of LDR’s ninth, and duets on ‘Margaret’ - a late album highlight that nods to Springsteen, Sufjan and even Dolly Parton throughout its run time). But that’s clearly not the point of ‘…Ocean Blvd’.

Instead, Lana’s latest is full of offerings that change course halfway through and interludes that sometimes outstay their welcome. It’s a record that plays out like a Tennessee Williams drama, with all its restless, unsure inbetweens left in. If the singer’s supremely sassy decision to place only one promotional billboard up, in her ex’s hometown, suggested an album embedded in revenge, then the reality is far less concrete. Here, dreamlike sequences and flashes of uncomfortable laughter pepper a humid release full of yearning and questions: about motherhood, about humanity, about herself. “There’s a certain point the body can’t come back from,” goes ‘Kintsugi’ - one of the album’s more centred moments.

Beginning with gospel harmonies that ebb and flow throughout a track filled with meditative warmth and reflection, ‘The Grants’ (Lana’s IRL family name) introduces the record with the same confidence of 2019’s superlative ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’, while its previously released title track is classic LDR, augmented by the same harmonies at its close. ‘Sweet’ channels old Hollywood in its piano flutters, whereas ‘A&W’ feels like a definitive moment, almost Radiohead-y guitar plucks enveloping big statements about America and youth and sex before the whole thing veers left down a dark, dubby alleyway. It’s like the cockiest bits of her debut but steeped in the narcotic fug of time and regret.

Then things start to get weird. The extreme length of an interlude from Judah Smith - an American pastor - must be making a point, but it’s one at odds with listener enjoyment, while a spoken interlude from musician Jon Batiste cuts in not long after. ‘Fingertips’, meanwhile, finds Lana delivering an almost stream-of-consciousness spoken word piece about having a baby (“Can I handle it?”) that’s filled with a discomfiting nostalgia that’s more Grey Gardens than ‘Video Games’. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Paris, Texas’ is purposefully straight-forward (“I went to Paris… I took a train to Spain”), its sing-song simplicity given a strange sense of sadness after what’s come before.

The album’s final third comes back-loaded with duets: Father John Misty crops up on country-folk number ‘Let The Light In’; Jack Antonoff appears on the aforementioned ‘Margaret’ under his Bleachers moniker, while Tommy Genesis ups the swag on ‘Peppers’, which name-checks both the Red Hot Chilis of its title and, more surprisingly, Angelina Jolie. They’re some of the most obvious singles on the record and wrap around the autotuned outline of ‘Fishtail’ - an easy highlight that also seems weirdly flung at the end. The final duet, meanwhile, is left for Lana to sing with herself, as closing track ‘Taco Truck x VB’ segues into a woozy, disorientating portion of ‘Venice Bitch’ - Ocean Blvd’s tunnel seemingly only stretching back to the past.

As a piece, it’s adventurous and pleasingly unbothered with a musical landscape that prioritises singles and hooks and succinctness. As a listen, it doesn’t always completely land, but when it does it’s truly exciting. As an artist, ‘Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd’ shows Lana Del Rey pushing herself perhaps more than ever.

Tags: Lana Del Rey, Reviews, Album Reviews

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