Track five of Lana Del Rey’s new studio album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, is “Judah Smith Interlude,” and it’s exactly what’s advertised — four and a half minutes of a sermon from the celebrity pastor over meandering piano as he touches on lust, cosmic glory, and selfishness. The effect is eerie, and it’s unclear where this audio came from, as there are murmurs and moments of laughter on the recording that could be Del Rey herself. Is she endorsing the dialogue? Is she lampooning it? It doesn’t really matter. That’s not the point of listening to Lana Del Rey.
The singer-songwriter is poised to release her ninth studio album this coming Friday, March 24th. It’s been eleven years since Lana Del Rey introduced herself with Born to Die, naked sadness in thirteen tracks. Lana Del Rey felt a bit like a character then, and that’s even more true now. She’s not someone whose records you throw on when you want to connect with the figure behind the microphone, she transports the listener into a nightmare-daydream, a blend of patriotism and tragedy, sonnets that double as eulogies.
Lana Del Rey’s music exists in the liminal spaces, which is why it doesn’t feel consequential what she, as our narrator, thinks about a Hollywood megachurch leader. With this album, she’s doing something more akin to what great photographers do, which is capturing, sharing, and allowing us to decide for ourselves.
After a pair of dual releases in 2021, Chemtrails Over The Country Club and Blue Bannisters, …Ocean Blvd is a welcome return to form for Lana Del Rey. There will never be another album like the masterwork that is Norman Fucking Rockwell!, and that’s what makes her 2019 album so very special, but …Ocean Blvd puts Del Rey at least in the neighborhood.
This LP boasts some of Lana Del Rey’s very best singles in years, especially the sprawling, confessional “A&W.” The title track, which features lines like, “Fuck me to death, love me until I love myself,” evokes the romantic misery of her earliest songs like “National Anthem,” but, overall, …Ocean Blvd feels like the spiritual successor of Norman Fucking Rockwell!. Del Rey seems aware of this, too — the final track on the record is called “Taco Truck x VB,” and the “VB” does in fact stand for “Venice Bitch,” the NFR! cut that gets reimagined here over a trap beat. “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing” could exist in the same universe as “Mariner’s Apartment Complex;” the music box waltz “Paris, Texas” doesn’t feel too far away from “How to disappear” or “Fuck it I love you.”
For listeners who can find humor amid the melodrama, there are plenty of classic Lana Del Rey moments to be enjoyed here. “If you want some basic bitch, go to the Beverly Center,” she sings on the dramatic, orchestral “Sweet,” a laugh-out-loud funny line that she delivers with utter seriousness. She whispers the names of places like Texas and Florence, Alabama like she’s telling us the most urgent of forbidden secrets.
While this album might be Lana Del Rey’s most interesting and layered work in a few years, it’s not without its stumbles. The back half of the album fights, in places, to stay memorable, and “Margaret (feat. Bleachers)” doesn’t quite rise to the challenge. “Kintsugi” begins with an incredibly compelling lyric — “There’s a certain point the body can’t come back from” — but the song gets lost in the following six, sleepy minutes. Things wake up again in the later half of “Fishtail,” and “Peppers (feat. Tommy Genesis)” is something of a successful swing, which features murmuring verses and a bona fide dance-rap chorus.
Overall, there are more collaborators on this album than many other of Del Rey’s efforts; Father John Misty feels like a natural choice for her, and “Let the light in” is appropriately full of yearning. The ever-dependable Jon Batiste takes the backseat on “Candy Necklace” but thankfully steps into the spotlight moments later on an energetic interlude of his own.
Meanwhile, people have plenty to say about Jack Antonoff’s production style, especially as his name has continued to appear with more frequency over the last few years, but it’s hard to deny how well he seems to understand Lana Del Rey’s vision. These two operate well as partners, and maybe it’s because Antonoff’s style as a producer doesn’t seem particularly domineering — he’s curious, and content to follow where a song seems to be leading. Here, that approach is to the album’s benefit.
Ultimately, for another sonically cohesive record, the thread that ties this package together is the exploration of American melancholia. Nobody does it better than Lana Del Rey; her blend of hyper-specific details of crossroads and names with abstract, winding storytelling taps into the milieu of the modern United States with a clarity and, perhaps more importantly, a distinct style that is hard to outdo. This is her lane. This is where she thrives. And, thankfully, this is where Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd spends most of its time.