By Sidnie Paisley Thomas, Staff Writer
Artist: Lana Del Rey
Album: Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd
Favorite Songs: “The Grants,” “A&W,” and “Let The Light In”
Lana Del Rey’s latest album requires your full attention and nothing less. Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd won’t allow you to downplay it just because it’s Del Rey’s eighth studio album. It’s equally, if not more complex than all her others. With a diverse set of features including Jon Batiste, Bleachers, Father John Misty, Pastor Judah Smith, Tommy Genesis, RIOPY, and SYML, she’s able to create a sound that’s confusing at first, but becomes more clear with a focused listen. Del Rey uses her diverse range of sounds as well as that of her collaborators to remark on her past, her present, and her future in 16 songs.
A DIVE INTO DEL REY’S EVOLVING SOUND
Del Rey and her sound are nothing new to the industry. Her debut album Born To Die, released in 2011, combined her husky voice and deeply vulnerable lyrics with hip hop-influenced beats, produced to evoke just as much emotion as her lyrics.
As she’s grown as an artist over the last decade, this sound has expanded and shrunk to fit her style. Her 2015 album Honeymoon is composed of Del Rey’s powerful voice over quieter beats with orchestra crescendos. On Lust For Life (2017), Del Rey utilizes hip hop sounds in ways she never has before, with rappers ASAP Rocky and Playboi Carti both featured on the album.
As someone who grew up listening to Del Rey in what was deemed her “prime,” my favorite albums are the ones that can walk this line of styles perfectly, like Ultraviolence (2014).
On this latest album, I was hopeful for a diversion from the sound of her last few albums; something with more risk-taking. I was mostly excited to hear what her sound has become almost 13 years since her first release.
Did You Know That There's a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd doesn’t stray far away from Del Rey’s traditional sound. In fact, it relies on sounds and themes from her past album to support the stories she’s telling on each track. The album trapezes between retrospection, introspection, and hope for the future. Del Rey reminds us of the severity of her songwriting pen while giving us insight into what her life looks like now, and how that reflects her past as a young artist.
The sound stumbles between experimental pop, classic folk, and slow ballads. With its range of sounds and emotions, Del Rey sets out to create a project that is multifaceted and nuanced in all aspects. But the message finds itself getting jumbled as the album jumps from different themes and sounds fearlessly. It’s only when you listen to Did You Know… with undivided attention that you hear all of these sounds blend to tell a story that acknowledges the past and moves into the future.
LOOKING INTO THE PAST AND FEELING IT IN THE PRESENT
On Did You Know… Del Rey is not afraid to lean on her old sound and address the girl she used to be. The beat drop in “A&W” is reminiscent of those on her second studio album Ultraviolence, and she even interpolates her song “Venice Bitch,” from her album Norman Fucking Rockwell, on the closing track of the album “Taco Truck X VB.” The difference is, now she’s able to shed light on what she was feeling during those album eras, and able to sing from a more retrospective place.
On “A&W” specifically, Del Rey seems to be speaking about the girl she was during the Ultraviolence album era. Singing about the trials and tribulations of being an “American whore,” she sheds light on what the experience of being young and looking for attention was like. The song progresses from Del Rey speaking quietly over a simple guitar chord, to her commanding our attention with her cool girl rasp in her voice, all over a dark techno bass drop. She seemingly slips right back into her Ultraviolence aesthetic. The lyrics “Jimmy only loves me when he wanna get high” evoke images of smudged eyeliner, cigarettes, and whiskey that are attached to that era.
Del Rey is not afraid to acknowledge the flaws of her past, but she’s also able to appreciate and pay homage to the music she made during that time. She’s able to write Did You Know… because of the girl who struggled to write Ultraviolence. Del Rey can appreciate her younger self, while also seeing all her pain, misfortune, and mistakes. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the album. Similar uses of samples and theme arise from the title track, and the song “Fishtail.” The ability to incorporate her past while also criticizing it is bold, especially because of the way her old music is glorified by critics and listeners.
STAYING PRESENT AND IN THE MOMENT
One of the most interesting choices on this album is the fifth track, “Judah Smith Interlude.” It’s a four-minute-long sermon where Pastor Judah Smith preaches about avoiding lust, and loving what is right in front of you. His final words on the track are “I’ve discovered my preaching is mostly about me.”
Following directly after “A&W,” this track serves to put the listener in the mindset to hear the rest of the album. Del Rey has been criticized for writing too much about men, romantic relationships and sex. She responds to these critics through the use of this sermon and establishes what she plans to do for the rest of the album. In this new era, she’s focused on loving herself and what she has at the moment, instead of looking for love elsewhere. While she continues to pay homage to her past, Del Rey is less interested in revisiting those old times and would rather bring them into the present with her.
A large theme in this album is her family, and all the love and fears she has for them. On the opening track titled “The Grants,” she sings about her family members, saying “I’m going to take mine of you with me.” Del Rey is ready to love the people she has in front of her and all of the things they have to offer her. Expanding this powerful theme, she speaks about the death of family members and continues to grieve them in the present on “Kintsugi.” Then, she reflects on motherhood, and starting her own family on “Fingertips.” Del Rey’s present consists of her family and the love she has for them. She’s no longer interested in looking for that love somewhere else.
ESTABLISHING HER PLACE IN THE FUTURE
Although Del Rey may be growing up, she’s not interested in losing touch with her younger fan base. She experiments with newer pop sounds on this album in an attempt to integrate them into her more traditional sound. The song “Peppers,” featuring rapper Tommy Genesis, is a fresh take on Del Rey’s classic playful pop we were first introduced to on her debut album. Genesis bounces on the track with her playful tone and makes the song ultra fun and girly. Together, they sing about love and life in its most innocent, playful state, creating a sound Del Rey’s listeners can identify with.
On “Paris, Texas,” Del Rey visits a familiar theme in her music: home. She sings about visiting family and friends in Paris, Texas; Florence, Alabama; and ultimately, returning home to Venice, California. The song consists of her soft voice and a piano melody that follow each note of her voice. It creates a dreamy, lullaby effect that her younger listeners are sure to enjoy. Del Rey’s take on bedroom pop is masterful. Although it’s a quieter song, it’s able to move you like an orchestra.
Del Rey is not ready to be left behind in the pop sphere. She’s not done solidifying her place as one of the most important pop artists of her generation. Utilizing these fresher sounds she proves that she’s able to adapt to the modern landscape of pop, whether that be indie pop or mainstream popular music.
The problem is not the songs themselves, it's how they’re incorporated into the album and how they influence the bigger project. Del Rey succeeds at creating meaningful and powerful music on the individual tracks, but as a whole, the project's mix of sounds and themes overshadow the larger picture.
For hardcore fans of Del Rey, though, this album will ring true to everything they love about her. It’s multifaceted, heartfelt, and a little bit sassy. Her ability to tell a story with very few words is remarkable, and with Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd Del Rey creates something that can exist inside and outside itself.