Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard? Automatic translate
At this point in her career, Lana Del Rey plays for no one but herself. Why follow the trends that you yourself set? On March 24, her new album "Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd." – try to search for it and other new music on music services to rate it among the first.
In the 5 years since 2017’s Lust For Life, she hasn’t really tried to write a hit. On her last three albums, including 2019’s widely adored Norman Fucking Rockwell, she began writing songs that were notably unconcerned about what was happening on the charts. She’s become a songwriter, writing songs that aren’t afraid to be slow, unvarnished and bracingly personal: a notorious student of Hollywood glamour, who now seems only interested in unflattering truths.
This change came when she formed a partnership with producer Jack Antonoff, whose work is not without criticism. His credits are like a list of defining artists of this era, but I’m sympathetic to the accusations that his work with Lorde, The 1975 and Taylor Swift goes beyond being a producer; he takes the sounds of these eclectic artists and remakes them for his own image. However, it should be said that his collaboration with Lana was incredibly fruitful. Since Rockwell he knows how to frame her best songs, and here again he sets the right mood for an album that is as elegant as it is casual. String instruments do not just float, they ring and creak, and piano notes are sonorous, like glass. Lana’s voice remains omnipresent, central, even as she sings softly.
Despite the wide range of Lana’s catalogue, these sixteen songs are some of the most emotionally complex; thoughtful and optimistic, often at the same time. Throughout the tracklist, she asks open-ended questions about motherhood, self-worth, and family heritage. She pays tribute to her grandparents, niece and father, while making it clear that her own place in the world is a place she is less sure of. “Love me to death,” she sings on the album’s title track, “love me until I love myself.”
Even with such a search for material, her pen remains one of the sharpest to date. She can be funny (“I met my boyfriend in a taco truck”) and when she sings about coercion in “A&W,” she can also be shockingly outspoken. Sonically, this is another album that should stand on the shelf with the classics in terms of its sound.
"Sweet" plays like a vintage Carol King while "Paris, Texas" enters new territory; shimmering and playful piano pulls towards Vashti Bunyan and other legends of the English folk revival. "Let The Light In", the best of her many collaborations with Father John Misty, is an absolute gem; it’s a straightforward Jackson Browne rocker, the kind that would have been a hit on FM radio in ’73. In fact, the three-song stretch from "Grandfather Please Stand On The Shoulders…" to "Margaret" lays claim to being one of the best of her nine albums to date.
Equally, however, Del Rey’s idiosyncratic thinking could lead to indulgences that threaten to derail the entire album. Do we really need two interludes on a 77-minute record (one of which is a four-minute sermon by a megachurch pastor) and a remix of “Venice Bitch” that is significantly inferior to the original? "Margaret" is the perfect ending to the album, but not this one. Instead, the record staggers on "Fishtail," a boring trap ballad, and hits a dead end with "Peppers," a rap excursion that’s an absolute mess; so incoherent that it’s excruciating.
Moments like these are puzzling, because without them, "Did You Know…" could compete among Lana’s best. In fact, in some great moments - such as the strange haziness of "Fingertips" or the ecstatic climax of "The Grants" - this is a wonderful album. Lana has grown a lot as an artist since she didn’t care about anything, but freedom isn’t just sunshine and roses. As this album proves, she can be complex, nervous and more than a little dirty.
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