By Amelia Jacob, Film & TV Digital Editor
Lana del Rey’s work has always had a particular allure for those yearning for a life spent chasing the turbulence of an all-consuming love. However, in her highly-anticipated ninth album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, del Rey finally succeeds in shedding the melodrama of her earlier work for good, not only creating a self-referential sonic experience, but also moulding a entirely new mythology for her as an artist and songwriter.
Ocean Blvd is an album that I’m sure will confuse the flocks of recent fans who were attracted to the sped-up remixes of del Rey’s Born to Die hits on TikTok. It is notably quiet and strongly resists categorisation, smoothly segueing between musings on heartbreak (‘Paris, Texas (feat. SYML)’) to a moving send-up of family and legacy (‘The Grants’). Whilst listening, I was struck by how Ocean Blvd seems like an older, wiser sister of 2015’s Honeymoon, similar in tone and structure, but with a lingering preoccupation with death that permeates the toned-down instrumentals.
In a recent interview with Billie Eilish, Del Rey described the album as ‘super long and wordy’, a phrase that rings very true. Some tracks feel superfluous, particularly the interludes – from Judah Smith and Jon Batiste – which are bizarre and only succeed in taking you out of the experience of the other songs. Since del Rey began collaborating with Jack Antonoff, her song production is more refined, but it lacks the rawness that her earlier work did.
These points aside, the best tracks of Ocean Blvd are the hardest to discern, though there isn’t one in particular that stands out among the rest. The titular single, the radio unfriendly ‘A&W’ and ‘Candy Necklace (feat. Jon Batiste)’ are sure to please die-hard fans. However, tracks like ‘Peppers (feat. Tommy Genesis)’, with tongue-in-cheek lines like ‘Me and my boyfriend listen to the Chili Peppers/We write hit songs without trying like all the time’, provide a satisfying nod to the earlier collaborations of Lust for Life. At the heart of these songs is an evaluation of the choices of del Rey’s past.
‘Kintsugi’ potentially exposes the reason for this stroll down memory lane – ‘When you see someone dying/You see all your days flash in front of you/And you think about who would be with you’. This exposure to death seems to galvanise del Rey’s perspective on love. In ‘Margaret (feat. Bleachers)’, Antonoff and del Rey muse on the former’s first meeting with his fiancée, Margaret Qualley. ‘When you know, you know’, del Rey croons, a refrain mirrored in ‘Paris, Texas (feat. SYML)’, ‘Then the more you know/It’s time to go’. Ocean Blvd extolls the virtues of the kind of love you don’t have to agonise over keeping.
This quiet confidence culminates in ‘Taco Truck x VB’ a ballad that takes rhythmic inspiration from her previous song ‘Chemtrails over the Country Club’ before disintegrating into a warped version of Norman F***ing Rockwell’s ‘Venice Bitch’. The choice to end on this note is intriguing, but ultimately sums up the point of the album. Del Rey seems to have finished structuring an idealised version of her life, instead evaluating her past in order to move towards a more honest future.
Featured image: UMG, Polydor
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