Ever since early December, when Lana Del Rey graced our ears with the single “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” fans have been waiting in great anticipation for the release of the album under the same name. Speaking rather biasedly, I would profess that we have not been disappointed.
Right off the bat, Lana remains in keeping with her trademark Americana persona that listeners can’t help but fall in love with, down to the title that refers to a hidden beauty in Myrtle Beach. Throughout her musical career, Lana Del Rey (or should I say Lizzie Grant) has created a caricature of herself as a tragical All-American beauty; with her first album, Born To Die, featuring songs titled “Lolita” and “National Anthem,” purposefully establishing herself as the vulnerable daughter of the American Dream.
Born To Die skyrocketed Lana into the public eye, with an incredible reaction to her song “Video Games,” in particular. The album curated what felt like a whole new genre and bought together a very particular and devoted fan base. It marketed itself as music for sad girls, for the “other women” of the world. Her music, especially of this early era, is associated by fans with such literature as Nabokov’s Lolita and Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, amongst other equally problematic fetishizations of young women. Despite the obvious objections one might have to the promotion of such things, Lana manages to draw listeners in with her voice and creates such a nostalgic and melancholic feel that you accept her storytelling as gospel.
As her career has progressed, there has undoubtedly been growth from album to album. It feels as though we are following Lana along her journey of self-acceptance and expression. Although she has not always been completely transparent with her audience, her albums veer more and more toward the domestic as the years go on. For me, this change was most apparent in her two most recent albums before Ocean Blvd—Chemtrails Over The Country Club and Blue Bannisters. Down to the album covers themselves, Lana is photographed at ease, with her pets and with those close to her. She references her sister in the titular song in Chemtrails and feels, on the whole, to be opening up about her relationships, as well as herself, rather than focusing on others as she did, for example, in the song “Carmen” on her debut album.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd feels like a complete metamorphosis for Lana. Of course, the essence of what makes her music her own and so instantly recognizable is her voice, therefore melding together her entire discography. In terms of her lyricism and the themes Lana has chosen to explore, however, this album certainly shows signs of evolution in how LDR makes music.
The impression of change that Lana portrays through this album was confirmed by the artist herself during her Billboard Women in Music speech earlier this month. She started by revealing that she didn’t have a long-term vision at all but that she was indeed “very happy” and that happiness is surely the ultimate goal. She urged her listeners to seek out self-expression and happiness and reflected on the positive shift within the music industry since she began releasing music 14 years previously.
In an interview with Billboard, the singer revealed her intention with this album was to open up and introduce herself to her audience, as she had tried and failed to do in the past.
Ocean Blvd’s track “Fingerprints” appears to be the rawest Lana has ever been with her audience. The lyrics reflect on life in her teenage years, her home town and her relationship with her mother. The song features the names of her family, paying homage to them, “Dad, Grandma, Grandpa and Dave,” or calling them for reassurance as she delves into her past, “Father, Sister, Brother?” “Caroline, will you be with me?” Listening to this song, it feels almost as though she is inviting us into her constant stream of thought. As she sings, she flits between ideas, questioning, “will I have one of mine?” In reference to the children in her family and to the prospect of having her own, can she handle having children? Is she fit to? Are these questions manifesting within her mind due to her mother’s influence?
Through “Fingertips,” we are presented with a more rounded view of Lana’s upbringing. Although having been explored earlier in her career in the song “This Is What Makes Us Girls,” Lana ponders the effect that being sent away and experiencing isolation in her younger years has had on her. Through her earlier music, we get a sense that Lana is experiencing pain and complexities in her personal life and reacting in ways that are harmful and reckless. This song suggests that this is in the artist’s past; she is reflective and calm, and as we know, she is happier.
Themes of Family and Religion are recurrent through the tracks in Ocean Blvd, lending themselves to the overall mood of contentment created. In “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing,” Lana calls out to God to give her signs that he is near and urges her grandfather to watch over and protect her family from harm. She suggests that it has been God that has pieced her together and casts a feeling of simplicity, that things are falling into place. This feels like something completely new from Lana, far more relaxed and genuine lyricism than previous albums.
Despite turning a new leaf, this new album is still fundamentally Lana, and some of her most well-loved and hated musical trademarks remain. It is important to remember when talking about LDR that she is indeed a character fine-tuned and curated by Lizzie Grant. She is a persona and an iconically recognizable and fanatically adored one at that. Lana Del Rey is a 1950s pin up sex-symbol; she exudes LA, she is Old Hollywood Glamour, she is White Trash, she is Heart-shaped sunglasses, and she is Marilyn Monroe; Lana del Rey is a postmodern collage with a breath-taking voice. Lana has created such an identifiable brand for herself that she can refer to her own music in a way that is intrinsically post-modern. She does this subtly in Ocean Blvd and in ways that are so blindly obvious, such as “Taco Truck x VB,” a reference to the song “Venice Bitch” from the album Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Fans have also noticed sampling and referencing from previous eras of Lana in other tracks as well. “Cinnamon Girl” appearing in Candy Necklace and Norman Fucking Rockwell in “A&W.”
As well as sampling and reworking old songs, Lana has carried lyrical traditions with her into Ocean Blvd. One of my personal favourite Lana trademarks is her ability to imperfectly inject the most irrelevant lyrics into truly beautiful songs. She does so in “Taco Truck x VB” randomly beginning the song with “Pass me my vape, I’m feeling sick, I need to take a puff,” feeling very reminiscent of iconic lyric “You name your babe Lilac Heaven, After your iPhone 11, ‘Crypto forever,’ screams your stupid boyfriend, Fuck you, Kevin’” in “Sweet Carolina.”
Overall, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd has been met, expectedly, with a smorgasbord of mixed reviews. Lana has a way of creating controversy and sparking debate through her use of controversial lyrics and actions within her personal life. From speculating online, the consensus from fans is overwhelmingly positive, and the negativity seemingly comes from those who have been critical of Lana in the past. The shift in her music is understandably subtle to those unfamiliar with her work, and the overall sound in Ocean Blvd is very cohesive with Lana’s discography.
Personally, less than a week after its release, I am already sold. As I stated at the beginning of this review, I am bound to be biased; I have been a listener and a lover of LDR since the first time I heard “Video Games.” I feel honoured to be invited into this beautiful personal account of Lana’s life, to hear during the interludes the words that resonate with her and to feel excited to witness this evolution of her music. On the release of “A&W” and “The Grants,” I was excited to see how this mix of “American Whore” and choral singing would create a cohesive piece of storytelling, and I was not disappointed. I understand the criticisms of Lana and can see how her music tends to spark debate and controversy; however, I am thrilled to see this new side to her and can’t wait to see what comes next.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd Track Listing:
1. “The Grants”
2. “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd”
5. “Judah Smith Interlude”
6. “Candy Necklace”
7. “Jon Batiste Interlude”
10. “Paris, Texas”
11. “Grandfather Please Stand On The Shoulders Of My Father While He’s Deep-Sea Fishing”
12. “Let The Light In (feat. Father John Misty)”
13. “Margaret (feat. Bleachers)”
15. “Peppers (feat. Tommy Genesis)”
16. “Taco Truck x VB”
Run Time: 77:43
Release Date: March 24, 2023
Record Label: Interscope Records / Polydor Records