[Review] Lana Del Rey blends a variety of sounds and styles in her ninth studio album ‘Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd’


Tribune News Service

Lana Del Rey arrives at the Womens’s Guild Cedars-Sinai Disco Ball honoring Jamie Lee Curtis at The Beverly Hilton on Nov. 30, 2022, in Beverly Hills, California. Photo permission from Kevin Winter/Getty Images/TNS

Vincent Ciullo, Writer

Singer-songwriter Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, known professionally as Lana Del Rey, released her album “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” on Friday, March 24, 2023. The album arrives three months after the unexpected release of the first lead single from the recording, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd.” Available on streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music, the album immediately rose to the top of numerous international charts.

Del Rey’s debut album, “Born To Die,” was released in 2012, with the extended play “Paradise” released later the same year. Several critically acclaimed albums followed, with her discography comprised of “Ultraviolence” from 2014, “Honeymoon” from 2015, “Lust For Life” from 2017, and “Norman F****** Rockwell” from 2019. “Chemtrails over the Country Club” and “Blue Banisters,” her two most recent albums, were released within seven months of each other in 2021.

With a running time of one hour and 17 minutes, the album is Del Rey’s longest to date. 14 songs and two interludes make up “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” equaling her record set by “Lust For Life” in terms of track count. Multiple artists are featured on the recording, including Jon Batiste, SYML, Tommy Genesis, RIOPY, Bleachers and Father John Misty, with whom she collaborated for “Buddy’s Rendezvous” on his 2022 album, “Chloë and the Next 20th Century.”

The third lead single, “The Grants,” which was released ten days before the album, serves as its opening track. A trio of gospel singers singing acapella at the beginning of the song is followed by a soft piano transition. Throughout the song, Del Rey sings gently about her family and personal life. Though reminiscent of the ballads from her 2021 album, “Blue Banisters,” I felt the song was too underwhelming as the first track.

The album’s title track, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” comes next. The song’s opening piano and orchestral strings give us a preview of what the album has to offer with its remaining tracks.

Singing about the aforementioned “Tunnel under Ocean Boulevard,” Del Rey paints a picture of the tunnel through descriptive words to describe this underground phenomenon sealed beneath the oceanic route in Long Beach, California. While not a significant standout from the album, I thought the song’s development from beginning to end was phenomenal, as the track finished with repeated lyrics of “Don’t forget me.”

The fourth track of the album, “A&W,” was released as the second lead single of the album on Feb. 14, 2023. In the initial segment of this song, Del Rey begins with a brief account of her upbringing. The track eventually transitions into her adulthood, describing her own experiences listeners can connect to, with lyrics such as, “It’s not about havin’ someone to love me anymore.”

The song’s second section, which is notably different from the first, is dominated by hip-hop and trap influences, a sound that can be heard in some of Del Rey’s earliest tracks. It is her second-longest song to date at seven minutes and 14 seconds, only being surpassed by 2018’s “Venice *****.”

The album’s ninth track, “Fingertips,” has a structure never heard from Del Rey before. The song is like a poem with 10 verses and no chorus or bridge, along with a conversational feel as if she is recalling a story from her life.

The entire instrumental from SYML’s song “I Wanted to Leave” is used in the song “Paris, Texas,” track 10 on the album. The track shares the same title as a movie from 1984. Del Rey is described as traveling from the small Texas town of Paris to Alabama in the song’s subject matter, feeling as if the journey will lessen her concerns about her deteriorating relationship at home.

The song reflected a curious and magical energy, something I sensed in the next track, “Grandfather Please Stand on the Shoulders of My Father While He’s Deep-Sea Fishing.” This song starts and finishes with the mention of “Three white butterflies,” as the insect signifies a symbol of transformation and change.

The album’s song “Let The Light In,” which features Father John Misty’s vocals, was immediately well received by listeners. The title of the song is repeated in the chorus, implying that letting the light in will make an individual feel positive and happy. By far, this was my favorite track off the album, with a catchy tune and fantastic instrumental that was light and pleasant to hear.

Jack Antonoff, one of Del Rey’s producers and a close friend of hers, contributes vocals to track 13. This song, “Margaret,” refers to Margaret Qualley, Antonoff’s fiancée. The track’s electronic and orchestral instrumental is reminiscent of songs from Del Rey’s album “Norman F***** Rockwell” from 2019.

The final three songs were some of the best off the album, starting with track 14, “Fishtail.” Featuring a surprising and enjoyable beat drop, I felt the song’s beat was transformed subtly and quickly.

The penultimate track of the album, “Peppers,” features a chorus sample of “Angelina” by Tommy Genesis. The song, like “A&W,” significantly altered the album’s tone by utilizing a trap-style beat that persisted throughout the entire track. Del Rey links lyrics between “Fishtail” and this song, with the lyrics “You can braid my hair” heard in both tracks. Near the song’s conclusion, an instrumental joins Del Rey’s vocals, contributing to the album’s overall “beachy” atmosphere, comparably presented in “Norman F****** Rockwell.”

Track 16 is the final song from the album, titled “Taco Truck x VB.” The track samples a more beat-driven version of Del Rey’s song “Venice B****.” Opening with the “Taco Truck” portion of the track, a usual flow of rhyming every other line is used, with a tempo change beginning midway through the sequence. A minute-long surf-pop instrumental follows, ending with a spoken line from Qualley.

The song then transitions to vocals from “Venice B****,” with continued repetition of lyrics from the track until the conclusion of the song and album altogether. I enjoyed the inclusion of her previous track, as it helped me reminisce of earlier days when the song was first released.

Overall, I believe “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” is one of Lana Del Rey’s best works yet. It combines poetry and music to create a fantastic album embedded with her personal touches. While the beginning half was somewhat slow and gentle, listening to the album in full is an experience worth the wait.

The occasional references to some of Del Rey’s past recordings brought a familiarity to the album, along with a feeling of certain tracks being influenced by styles and sounds exhibited in her previous discography. With this album, Lana Del Rey showcased a wide range of genres to produce a remarkable work of art that touched listeners around the world.