Album review: Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?
By Owen Scott
It’s been a good three years to be a Lana Del Rey fan. With two albums in 2021 and another in 2023, Del Rey has had no shortage of creative expression. After searching for herself on the American Frontier in Chemtrails over the Country Club and in the minutiae of everyday life on the revealing Blue Banisters, Del Rey dives inward on perhaps her most introspective work yet Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd?.
There’s an immediate focus on family on the album, as ‘The Grants’, a title referencing the surname of Del Rey’s own family, shows. The gospel tinged song features a constant theme in Del Rey’s work: death. However, here Lana Del Rey looks at death differently, she’s not looking to join someone like she was on ‘Dark Paradise’, but, instead, hoping to take the memories of her family to heaven with her.
The inclusion of the choir’s mistake at the song’s opening is a preface for the album: Del Rey’s speaking the whole truth, unfiltered and real. That’s an ethos that runs throughout the entirety of the album; more diaristic than ever, Lana Del Rey has described, to Billie Eilish for Interview Magazine, recording the album as “going on a seven-minute rant with a repetitive melody”. Describing her songs as a “rant” though may not be giving herself enough credit; Lana Del Rey’s not holding back at all on Ocean Blvd.
The album’s singles, ‘The Grants’, the title track (read the review for that song here) and the album’s crown jewel ‘A&W’, come early in the album. ‘A&W’ may be one of Lana Del Rey’s greatest songs yet, as she takes aim at critics that have dogged her career and directly calls them, and their treatment of her, out.
She discusses heavy subject matters, asking “If I told you that I was raped, do you really think that anybody would think, I didn’t ask for it?”, addressing the media’s perspective of her as the girl who cried wolf, who deserves the criticism and treatment she receives as punishment for how she presents herself. The song’s tragic, forlorn first half gives way to a fiery, trap orientated second half where, having discussed the treatment she’s received, she fights back with a defiant “Your mum called, I told her, you’re fucking up big time”. The song spans a full seven minutes and shows Del Rey has her feet firmly planted in the ground and is going nowhere, despite her ferocious critics.
Ocean Blvd’s first of two interludes, the ‘Judah Smith Interlude’ follows ‘A&W’. If you’re not a Christian, the track may not have a lot for you, being a recording of a sermon by a pastor of the same name, except perhaps giving you an insight into the importance that Del Rey places on her relationship with God or serving as a religious comment on the harrowing preceding track. The second interlude, however, the ‘Jon Batiste Interlude’ is less heavy in its subject matter, but nonetheless lush in its production, taking shape as an almost psychedelic trance.
Relationships, both familial and romantic, remain a constant theme in the album. ‘Margaret (feat. Bleachers)’, finds Del Rey writing a love song for frequent collaborator Jack Antonoff, and ‘Let the Light In’, featuring Father John Misty, finds Del Rey yearning for a second look at her relationship. Another song joining the ranks of ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have – but I have it’ and ‘God Bless America – and All the Beautiful Women in It’ in the hall of fame of long Lana Del Rey titles is ‘Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing’ which combines two core themes on the album: family and the public’s perception of Lana Del Rey.
The song features swelling instrumentation as Lana Del Rey suggests that despite the perception that “some big men behind the scenes” helped form her career, the true origins of her stardom can be traced back to her relationships with her family, who imbued her with a desire to have “good intentions”.
Where the album shines brightest though is in its more experimental moments like ‘Taco Truck x VB’, where Del Rey playfully references ‘Lanita’, a fan nickname for her, and blends in ‘Venice Bitch’, a fan favourite from Norman Fucking Rockwell. ‘Peppers (feat Tommy Genesis)’ similarly shows a liberated side to Del Rey, where she’s in a mood to ‘dance naked for the neighbours’. ‘Candy Necklace (feat Jon Batiste)’ is another standout, more lowkey than the two aforementioned songs, but as equally experimental as Del Rey plays with the pace of her singing and references contemporary shows such as ‘The Young and Restless’.
On ‘Did you know that there’s tunnel under Ocean Blvd?’, Del Rey dives into many different aspects of herself. She explores her relationships to religion, to her family, to herself and to romance. It’s deeply introspective at all times, playful in some and tragic in others. Where Blue Banisters was, as Del Rey told Rolling Stone UK, an “explanatory album” and Chemtrails Over the Country Club carried with it a sense of escapism, this album feels grand in its ambition, reaching across America to “the sweet North Country”, to the “Midwest”, to “Paris, Texas” and to the titular Ocean Blvd.
Del Rey reaches into her own past too, both musically with her sampling of her own song ‘Venice Bitch’ to references to her own family on ‘The Grants’. It’s a stunning album, entrenched in the remembering of the past and Del Rey’s desire to tell her own story, rather than to allow critics to tell her own story back to her.
For more on Lana Del Rey check out her website here and stream the stunning Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd? here.