I hadn’t thought about a Lana Del Rey album in years. Once her indie sad-girl Tumblr era died, I couldn’t bring myself to listen to her new music.
The Jack Antonoff piano ballads and monotonous singing didn’t pull me in the way classic 2012 songs like “Ride” and “Summertime Sadness” had. The persona of flower crown Southern California Lana Del Rey seemed as good as dead.
This was how I felt at least until the February release of the song “A&W.” By its seven-minute mark, the single turns into an 808 drum-filled pop song that belongs in Born to Die. I couldn’t believe it — was the old Lana coming back?
With the Friday release of her new album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, this wasn’t the case, but her refusal to return to the past is what makes this one of her strongest albums.The album is less a collection of songs and more a reading of diary entries to a backing piano. It’s Lana at her most authentic and personal, allowing her fans a look into her inner thoughts as Elizabeth Grant.
The opening track “The Grants” is a church sermon piano ballad ode to her family reminiscent of the work on her 2019 album Norman Fucking Rockwell. With lyrics like “I’m gonna take mine of you with me,” she takes us back to the golden days with her loved ones, choosing to preserve the joy she felt with them in her memories.
This sentiment is shared in similar ballads like “Kintsugi,” a bittersweet reflection on mortality and the time she’s lost with family members who’ve died. In “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing” — it’s not a Lana project unless you can’t read the entire title on your phone — she seems to plead for guidance from the men in her life.
Her introspectiveness continues with her relationship with love. On “Sweet,” another ballad with a similar progression to the opening verse of “Ride,” Lana asks her lover if they will commit to an average life with her: “Do you want children / Do you wanna marry me? / Do you wanna run marathons in Long Beach by the sea?” However, she contradicts this theme in the titular track — “love me until I love myself,” she sings, struggling to find her true feelings in both songs.
Alongside my favorite track “A&W,” the slow synth of “Fishtail” stands out. It’s a reprieve from the lineup of ballads, and on it, she calls out fans like myself for our attachment to her early “sad girl” persona. She sings, “Don’t you dare say that you’ll braid my hair, babe / If you don’t really care / You wanted me sadder.” It’s a stern message on her refusal to return to the past.
The album’s vulnerability and honesty wouldn’t have had a place in her old works. Even with her evident maturity, there are still some parts of her diary she should’ve kept to herself.
Her stream-of-consciousness writing drones on in moments, like when she’s telling her listener in “Taco Truck x VB” about being so sick she needed to hit her vape after meeting her boyfriend at a taco truck. And there’s the unexpected “Judah Smith Interlude” that throws fans into a preacher’s sermon about the dangers of lust backed by Antonoff on piano, creating an eerie, unsettling experience.
But a few of these random “Lanita” moments in “Taco Truck x VB” paid off, such as with the catchy opener of “Hands on your knees, I’m Angelina Jolie” off of the track “Peppers” — or at least it did up until she mentioned getting COVID-19 from her boyfriend a verse later.