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‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’ Review: The Beauty of Artistic Maturity and Personal Growth

5 Stars

"Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd" by Lana Del Rey was released on March 24.
"Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd" by Lana Del Rey was released on March 24. By Courtesy of Lana Del Rey / Interscope / Polydor Records
By Sean Wang Zi-Ming, Crimson Staff Writer

Lana Del Rey’s unique sound remains relevant as she weaves heartfelt ballads with upbeat indie pop in her latest album. Del Rey’s poetic sensibilities shine through as themes of Americana and heartbreak from her previous pop-centric albums return with a more nuanced consideration of family history and religious identity. The album’s well-produced acoustic soundscape elevates Del Rey’s melodies and lets her carefully crafted lyrics shine through.

The album’s deeply personal tone is immediately apparent from its first song, “The Grants.” In an ode to remembrance, Del Rey achingly sings about the things she wants to take with her, like her “sister’s first-born child” and her “grandmother’s last smile.” With a lilting voice accompanied by gentle harmonies, the refrain “I’m gonna take mine of you with me” draws attention to the album’s pensive, contemplative tone. This theme of remembrance ties together the tracks across the album.

In the single the album is titled after, “Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” this remembrance is accompanied by an irrefutable sense of loss. Even as Del Rey croons “don’t forget me,” the song is more introspective than anything. In a moment of incredibly poignant self-awareness, she asks the listener “love me until I love myself.” While she has sung about themes like nostalgia in a broader sense previously, Del Rey now seamlessly integrates this broader topic into a confessional discussion of her own personhood — a testament to her artistic maturity.

Accompanying these reflective movements in her lyrics are gentle accompaniments and pared-back production that takes on acoustic vibes. In songs like “Candy Necklace” featuring Jon Batiste, the piano shines through, its striking notes complementing Del Rey’s smooth vocals. In “Kintsugi,” the background music features minimal bass and dreamy-sounds that melt together. As such, in moments of intense revelation — such as when she asks, “Will I die? Or will I get to that 10-year mark?” in “Fingertips” — the full emotional weight of these lyrics are able to emerge in a meditative and vulnerable way, unfettered by the overproduction common in modern music.

However, even with the more acoustic direction the album takes, the tracklist never feels one-note. Instead, with varied pacing and different mixing styles, the album feels like a refreshing example of how authenticity can be blended with catchy, upbeat tunes. In “A&W,” the initial slow-ballad morphs into a rap set to a booming bassline towards the end of the song. Similarly, in “Paris, Texas (feat. SYML),” the melodic singing is paired together with rising melodies that generate a sense of dynamism.

Reminiscent of The Beatles, the rhythm of lyrics such as “Cause I love to love, to love, to love you. I hate to hate, to hate, to hate you” in “Let the Light In (feat. Father John Misty)” imparts an undeniable grooviness to the song even as Del Rey sings about her struggles. This build up in energy across the tracklist reaches its peak in “Peppers (feat. Tommy Genesis),” as Del Rey raps, “Hands on your knees, I’m Angelina Jolie.” Sonically and lyrically different from the rest of the album, it gives the tracklist a much needed playfulness after a series of more pensive songs.

This energy continues on to the final song, “Taco Truck x VB,” where VB refers to the song “Venice Bitch” from her earlier album, “Norman Fucking Rockwell.” The song begins with new lyrics and a new melody before blending into the old song “Venice Bitch,” now accompanied by a stronger bassline. An interesting stylistic choice, Del Rey shows her creative mastery as she updates her previous song, which already celebrates her ingenuity. Her own personal growth can also be seen as the yearning repetition of “Oh God I miss you on my lips” becomes less tragic and more playful in light of the new earlier addition to the song, where she teasingly asks for her lover to “Spin it 'til you whip it into white cream, baby.” The emotions expressed in her songs have become more complex and create an even richer experience for the listener.

Del Rey’s album is a triumphant celebration of her own emotional depths and creative genius. It is an experience that places Del Rey at the center — highlighting not her relationships or desires, but her growth, both personal and artistic, in all its difficulties and glories. The result is an album that is intensely moving without ever feeling cliché. When artists share their personal experiences, they always run the risk of coming off as performative. Del Rey manages to be vulnerable and authentic at the same time, making this one of her best albums to date.

—Staff writer Sean Wang Zi-Ming can be reached at sean.wangzi-ming@thecrimson.com.

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