Lana Del Rey and the idea of Americana have become artistically inseparable. Her charm as an artist is her ability to capture every aspect of American life: the beauty, the pleasure, the ugly, and the pain. She romanticizes the world around her by connecting the modern and the vintage, from her lyrics and stylistic choices to her 1950s-inspired music videos.
With her 2023 album Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey brings this idea of Americana into new introspective fashion.This album came together differently than every other work of hers. Many of Lana Del Rey’s previous albums emphasized world-building and aesthetics, but according to the singer, many of the songs on the new album came to her raw. Multiple tracks on this album, such as “A&W” and “Fingertips”, use a rant-like style of lyricism and were recorded on her cell phone. ‘Ocean’ features similar production styles to her previous albums, using soft instrumentation and heavy vocal reverb, with production assistance from familiar producers such as Jack Antonoff.
Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd acts as a musical manifestation of the singer’s life and everything on her mind. One of the most apparent themes on the album is death. Lana Del Rey has been infatuated with the idea of death throughout her life and it shows up many times throughout her career, including this album. Right out of the gate, the opener “The Grants” describes her intent to keep the memory of her family alive after they die. Additionally, she details her struggles with grief and acceptance of lost family members in the two tracks at the heart of the album, “Kintsugi” and “Fingertips”.
The previously mentioned songs focus heavily on her family, depicting her loyalty and their hardships. She shares stories of her youth, sings about her mother, and references her brother and sister by name. A recurring theme is the idea of continuing the family line. In “Fingertips”, Lana Del Rey sings about how she feels obligated to become a mother but deems herself unfit in one of the most heartbreaking verses on the entire album.
Relationships and inner turmoil are key themes as well. The idea of inadequacy appears to me to be the central theme of this album. Del Rey explores feelings of being insufficient to herself and the people around her in songs such as the title track, “Sweet”, “Fishtail”, “A&W”, “Paris, Texas”, and more. “Sweet” and “A&W” are arguably the most complex examples of this. “Sweet” describes being different from other women, but rather than feeling empowered by her differences, it has a somber and pessimistic tone. In “A&W”, she describes using sex to fill the emotional void in her life and missing her youth, before a tone switch in the song that uses an almost comically sarcastic interpolation of Little Anthony and The Imperials’ “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” to describe being sexually used. Despite these difficulties, she reminds us of the possibility of true love with the ode to Jack Antonoff’s relationship, “Margaret”.
Musically, Lana Del Rey makes sophisticated songwriting choices to emphasize the emotions she expresses with her lyrics. She utilizes different genres to create a different atmosphere with each song and uses different sound palettes while keeping a cohesive sound. She knows her craft and does it well; her songwriting choices shine on this record. Each song’s instrumentations swell and shrink to match the emotional arc. She strays away from popularized chord progressions, and contorts and resolves chords to accompany the lyrical content. My favorite example of this is in the song “Sweet”, where the chords wander out of the key signature on the lyrics “What you really don’t understand, I’ve got magic in my hand, stars in my eyes” to express the nuances and intricacies she contains. Another example is in the song “Kintsugi”, where the chords resolve on the lyrics “That’s how the light gets in.” This is particularly powerful, as “Kintsugi” depicts Del Rey’s struggle with grief. This resolution emphasizes the importance of these lyrics as one of the album’s central themes: allowing yourself to grieve is how you heal.
Arguably, the album’s most impressive feat is its genre variation; Del Rey uses virtually every style of Americana. “The Grants”, the title track, and “Sweet” use gospel instrumentation and vocals. “Paris, Texas”, and “Candy Necklace”, have a more folk sound, almost reminiscent of work by Kristen Hersh. The more lyrical tracks like the first half of “A&W”, “Kintsugi”, and “Fingertips” incorporate a minimalistic folksier sound, and at the end of the album she ventures into hip-hop territory. Some tracks fail to be placed into any category, and various other genre influences can be heard throughout the album, including but not limited to soul, R&B, surf rock, trap, country, and even Motown.
This album is an engaging experience with its stylistic variations, but it’s not an easy listen. It requires full engagement for maximum appreciation (and if you’re obsessive like me, five pages of notes). Many tracks are long and slow, and the album has two four-minute interludes. I enjoyed both of them and felt they added thematic depth to the album and built its atmosphere. However, they contributed very little musical content to the album. Immersing yourself in her stories is a beautiful and heartbreaking experience, but if unengaged, the listener may find it dull. The album is intricately crafted; I found it exhilarating listening to the lyrics and connecting themes and motifs like a puzzle. With an album this personal, however, the listener might need to educate themselves on the artist’s life. I listened to this album only knowing one other of hers, and I found myself compelled to research her other albums. Additionally, the ending may be anticlimactic for those unfamiliar with her discography. It morphs into hip-hop and pop sounds and shifts to a more apathetic mood with no set conclusion. I found this very frustrating on my first listen, but I grew to understand it. For a successful artist such as Lana Del Rey, who has released successful albums yet hounded by music critics, there is nothing left to prove. She seems to have found a sense of peace in the realm of apathy. This is apparent in the songs “Peppers” and “Taco Truck x VB”. The end of the album does not satisfy me as a listener, but I appreciate what she intended with it.
The album concludes with a demo version of her 2019 track Venice B*tch, which is symbolic of where she is in her career. This album is not only an ode to Americana, but an ode to herself, her family, her relationships, her turmoils, and who she is. Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is a beautiful, masterfully crafted, and introspective album. Topping it off with a remix of her own song is the ultimate celebration of herself. After dedicating this portion of her artistry to classic American music, she declares herself, Lana Del Rey, to be modern Americana.
Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard is available on all streaming platforms, or on CD and Vinyl on Lana Del Rey’s official website!