It’s been eleven years since Lana Del Rey released her debut album ‘Born To Die’. In that time, the singer-songwriter has been nothing short of prolific, dropping two albums in 2021 – ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’ and ‘Blue Bannisters’ – the follow-ups to 2019’s critically acclaimed ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’. Where ‘NFR!’ gave space for Lana’s exquisite storytelling, the double albums, though not exactly short of substance, left us searching for something to grab hold of.
On ninth album, ‘Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard’, we are instantly drawn back into Lana Del Rey’s America, one that sees her roaming from the Taco Trucks of late-night LA to the hiking trails of Griffith Park. But sees things, not through the eyes of a twenty-something preoccupied with current loves, but of someone considering her legacy as much as her present.
“I’m a different kind of woman,” Del Rey sings on ‘Sweet’, “If you want some kind of basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center”. It’s a classic Lana Del Rey line: quotable, confident and knowingly leaning into her carefully crafted outlier persona; a woman who thinks, who will steal your man in the blink of an eye.
But on ‘…Ocean Blvd’ we find Lana wracked with the same concerns as thirty-something women the world over – questioning if she wants the things we are endlessly told we’re supposed to want. Even one of America’s greatest songwriters, it seems, can’t escape the tick-tock of the biological clock.
On ‘Fingertips’ a pared-back piano track, the 37-year-old observes other mothers “will I have one of mine / can I handle it even if I did”. On title track and lead single, she asks “When’s it gonna be my turn”. These moments of humanity, where you see behind the sepia-toned mask into the mind of Lizzy Grant – are interspersed readily with pop-culture Lana of old, dancing naked for her neighbours, listening to Chilll Peppers with her boyfriend, chanting ‘Get high, drop acid, never die’, on ‘Taco Truck x VB’.
Across sixteen cinematic tracks, almost universally laden with strings, piano and Lana’s trademark Old Hollywood falsetto, Del Rey expels her innermost thoughts; about mortality, trauma, family, men and motherhood, questioning her place in the world.
She’s worked again with Jack Antonoff – the famed producer behind ‘NFR!’ as well as much-loved works by Lorde, St Vincent and Taylor Swift. Whether Antonoff’s influence or all her own, the lyrics here are given space to land. Sonically, there is little respite over the album’s sixteen tracks. On ‘A&W’, we are granted a glitchy, trap breakdown. On ‘Peppers’, Canadian rapper ‘Tommy Genesis’ adds a kitchy chorus, a sample from her own track ‘Angelina’ (“Let me put my hands on your knees, Angelina Jolie”), but otherwise, much like Lana’s thoughts, the music is preoccupied with a time gone by.
She’s self-referential, too. On ‘Taco Truck x VB’ Lana samples ‘NFR!’’s ‘Venice Bitch’. On ‘Candy Necklace’, she refs the now-iconic ‘Video Games’ line “baby you’re the best” followed swiftly by “but God, you’ve been bringing me down”.
Perhaps it’s this moment that best summarises Lana’s perspective on ‘…Ocean Blvd’. While scientifically, ageing may be a linear process, mentally it can be more complex. You can still feel like a 25-year-old looking for love at 37. But at 37, the weight of 12 years of hurt and disappointment can take the shine off. You can still dance around to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers with a lover like you did when you were 16, but it’s hard to escape the looming questions about your future that become more suffocating with every year that goes by.
‘…Ocean Blvd’ is a firm reminder that Lana Del Rey contains multitudes. It’s becoming clearer that Del Rey wasn’t Lizzy Grant’s stage persona after all: just one facet of a complex human – one who loves acid trips and cuddling her sister’s baby in equal measure. If Lana’s purpose in life is simply to provide an honest portrait of the modern woman’s experience, to make other women who have chosen a “non-traditional” path feel seen and worthy, then she can rest easy: she’s already fulfilled it.
READ MORE: Lana Del Rey and the battle of the biological clock