Although still in desperate need of an editor, her ninth album underlines why she remains an endlessly fascinating artist to so many
It’s now over a decade since Lana Del Rey broke into the big time with a song called Video Games, which came complete with a music video which redefined a particular aesthetic for a whole new generation. The amount of people who dismissed her as a flash in the pan, and were unaccountably angry about her “authenticity”, may now be feeling a bit silly.
The secret to Del Rey’s longevity seems to be that, since her major label debut, she’s pretty much played by her own rules. There is very much a Del Rey template (which again is faithfully adhered to on her ninth album) but each album has a degree of weirdness that you can’t imagine many other mainstream pop artists getting away with.
It’s no different on Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd – beginning with a snatch of Del Rey coaching her backing singers on an a cappella section, before a leisurely 77 minutes of beautifully orchestrated ballads, electronic experimentation, spoken word interludes and callbacks to previous Del Rey songs. Like the vast majority of her previous albums, there’s almost too much to take in, but you have to admire the sheer bloody-mindedness to do things her own way.
There’s a lot to get through over this record’s lengthy running time – so much in fact that it’s only on multiple listens that its charms are fully revealed. Lyrically, she’s moved away from the early days of red dresses and gangster molls, to become more autobiographical (you can almost hear the Reddit threads cranking up to discuss the many lyrical references). Opening track The Grants imagines how her family will remember her once she dies, while Fingertips is a wordy collection of memories about her life so far.
The family connection is reinforced in titles like Grandfather, Please Stand On The Shoulders Of My Father While He’s Deep-Sea Fishing (and who else would even think of titling a song that?), and extended family and friends also make an appearance – Margaret is named after the actress Margaret Qualley, now engaged to Del Rey’s producer Jack Antonoff, and simply describes their relationship (Qualley is also credited as a guest on the album, together with Father John Misty, Jon Batiste and French pianist Riopy).
Although the general musical vibe of Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is Del Rey’s trademark dreamy narcotic haze, there are some exhilarating occasions where she mixes things up a bit. A&W is a contender for the best track on the record, the first half being Del Ray talking about her adolescence (“watching Teenage Diary of a Girl, wondering what went wrong”) before halfway through dramatically changing tack into harsh beats, synth squiggles and a chant of “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff”.
It’s undeniable that 77 minutes is way too long though, and there are several tracks that could probably have been cut – chief amongst them Judah Smith Interlude, which is simply four minutes of celebrity pastor Judah Smith preaching while Del Rey chuckles in the background, and Peppers is a odd diversion into hip-hop, namechecking Angelina Jolie and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Compared to the gorgeous orchestration of the title track or the plaintively pretty piano line of Kintsugi, it pales slightly.
Despite the flaws, Del Rey does end the album on a high note with the excellent Taco Truck x VB, which closes by revisiting one of her finest songs Venice Bitch in a trap style – precisely the kind of thing that means Lana Del Rey, although still in desperate need of an editor, remains an endlessly fascinating artist to so many.