Early on in Lana Del Rey’s latest record she makes a bold statement. “I’m a different kind of woman/If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center and find her,” she sings delicately. Whatever you say Lana! The refrain blends together a tongue-and-cheek sensibility with a coquettish melodic delivery, which is much of what’s to come on the rest of the record. Her ninth studio album “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is a feast of collaborations, ever-shifting sonics, and a relaxed playfulness amid many contemplations–and stands as a definitive work in her catalog.
Del Rey has long been known for her lyrical storytelling, often crafting projects around a specific visual aesthetic. On her last two releases, 2021’s “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” and “Blue Banisters,” she began to dissect her familial history and trauma. She continues to do this but instead of the aesthetic “world-building” found on previous projects, she works to make her real life itself a work of art.
She seems excited by the idea of sharing space with fellow artists, as this record is the most collaborative since 2017’s “Lust for Life.” Father John Misty, Bleachers, Tommy Genesis, SYML, and Jon Batiste help her paint vivid vignettes of her personal life. Most memorable is the Genesis-aided “Peppers,” which is a cacophony of musical styles, resulting in a sometimes jazzy, sometimes alternative hip-hop duet between the two artists. “Hands on your knees/Angelina Jolie,” Genesis spits atop loose drums and synthesizers. The song is objectively strange considering Genesis’ rap specialty, but the campy instrumentals unite the styles together miraculously well.
Two songs on “Ocean Blvd” that each encapsulate the essence of the record as a whole, one showcasing hard-hitting lyricism and the other flexing an ability to spin mundane occurrences into booming cuts that pull no punches. “Kintsugi” references the Japanese practice of mending broken pottery with liquid gold–a simple but effective metaphor. Throughout the song, she references craving comfort and running away to the mountains after facing several deaths in her family. Lines such as “When you see someone dyin'/You see all your days flash in front of you/And you think about who would be with you,” reveal an artist more aware of her tendencies to wallow in sadness, while also sharing truth about her fear of death and legacy. A less important but still enticing detail from the song is the repeated mention of a “Roadrunner Cafe,” that can’t help but bring to mind Joni Mitchell’s own wallowing in some “dark cafe’s” on 1971’s “Blue.” Intentional? It’s unclear, and not particularly important, but is still a special nugget if you listen closely enough to pick it out.
Opposite of “Kintsugi,” “Taco Truck X VB” opens with “Met my boyfriend down at the taco truck/Pass me my vape, I'm feelin' sick, I need to take a puff.” Her off-the-wall lyrics are so unserious that it’s hard not to crack a smirk while listening. Del Rey supposedly meeting her boyfriend while waiting in line for a taco is an amusing image for the oft-regarded contemporary queen of romanticization. Ahh, stars…they’re just like us! The track begins as a laid back guitar and mellotron-led number before suddenly fading into a hard bass and synth driven beat bubbling just under the surface. At once, the beat pushes its way into the foreground and Del Rey bursts into a trap-influenced rendition of 2019’s “Venice Bitch.” The reinterpretation of the “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” cut is shocking, but brilliantly reworks the original to stand on its own as an instant classic of her catalog. By referencing her previous work (she also samples the title track of “NFR!” on the intense second single “A&W”), she’s honoring the artist she was, and blends it with the more aware woman she’s become since. The references to works past aren’t reductive or lazy, but are rather a way to position her as forward-thinking about her past, present, and future.