“Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” by Lana Del Rey (Interscope Records)
Lana Del Rey is a complicated, enigmatic pop star — since the height of her breakout album, “Born to Die," the singer has been labeled one of the best songwriters of her generation. Her songs tell stories of dark, wistful American glamour, yearning for a dangerous time in our history with glimmers of red-hot, toxic infidelity-riddled romances and an audaciously psychedelic allure.
“Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” is the next mega storytelling adventure for the singer-songwriter — she cuts deep into her fears, future and family instead of longing for things that aren't hers to dream about. This time, she's enduring the human experience in the real world — not a pretend one.
The lengthy, 16-song album explores themes of spirituality with religious undertones featuring gospel singers in “The Grants" and an interlude with Pastor Judah Smith, the leader of a controversial celebrity megachurch, Churchome. She also features Grammy award-winning uber talent Jon Batiste on "Candy Necklace" and “Jon Batiste Interlude," producer-musician and Del Rey's most frequent collaborator, Jack Antonoff, as his moniker Bleachers, and Father John Misty ("Let The Light In").
Del Rey sings melancholically about her impermanence in the album's title track, “Don’t forget me/Like the tunnel under Ocean Boulevard.” On another album single, “A&W,” co-written and produced by Antonoff, the singer gorgeously speaks to the experience of a liberated woman who wears a metaphorical scarlet letter on her chest. She examines the paradox of liberation and the condemnation sexually liberated women face as the result of their agency.
“Fingertips,” allows Del Rey to slowly ponder in a dreamy, strings-heavy ballad about her family, death and legacy: “Will I die? Or will I get to that 10-year mark?/Where I beat the extinction of telomeres?/And if I do, will you be there with me, Father, Sister, Brother?”
“Paris, Texas,” featuring SYML, feels and sounds like a lullaby, Del Rey whispering about wanderlust, scouring the world for a place to call home. “When you’re home, you’re home (Venice, California),” she sings in her breathy vocals.
“Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing,” is another fairytale-like ballad that dissects Del Rey's public image and legacy. She opens the profound song with the lyrics, “I know they think that it took somebody else/To make me beautiful, beautiful/As they intended me to be/But they’re wrong."
Other brights spots include “Margaret” featuring Bleachers — it is simply a larger-than-life love song about fated true love written for Antonoff about his relationship with actress Margaret Qualley. In a typical Antonoff and Del Rey production, the song is still and stripped back until it waits for a burst of bells and trumpets in the outro.
The wandering hour-long album closes with “Taco Truck x VB” a dark ballad that transitions to a trap-ified sample of “Venice B(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk),” one of Del Rey's songs from her hit album “Norman F(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk)(asterisk) Rockwell.” Sampling her own work shows Del Rey doesn't have anything to prove in “...Ocean Blvd,” she's never sounded more succinct and brazenly herself.
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Nardos Haile, The Associated Press