The last time Lana Del Rey took a swing as grand as her new opus Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, she smashed a walk-off winner.
Norman Fucking Rockwell!, released in 2019, was a magnificent career swerve. It remains the only project in Del Rey’s catalog to successfully transcend her brand of pulsing alt-pop melancholia — a 2010s-defining ennui that steered Lorde, Billie Eilish and now Taylor Swift — and embrace sounds more acoustically driven yet no less alluring.
While Chemtrails Over the Country Club and Blue Banisters — her pair of anticipated follow-ups, released seven months apart in 2021 — were delicately arranged sequels, neither recaptured the sheer magnetism of Rockwell! and its milestone tracks “Venice Bitch” “Doin’ Time” and “hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have.”
Now, prolific Del Rey has returned with her ninth and longest LP yet, which despite a similar immensity to Rockwell! again fails to recreate the indelible magic of past works.
Though a handful of tracks sparkle, Under Ocean Blvd is a chore to ingest across its regularly lulling 77 minutes. Del Rey has again opted for minimalist instrumentation, avoiding percussive thumps in favor of traipsing piano, acoustic guitar and lolloping vocal melodies that quickly flutter from view. Yes, Del Rey sings beautifully and will rightfully be recognized as a veritable voice of her generation — both in technique and disillusion — but here the cool distance she’s maintained between herself and listeners feels more expansive than ever.
The album is front-loaded with familiar ruminations on immolating love, bubbling infatuations and shifting identities. It’s fitting that the title track describes a tunnel with mosaic ceilings, as Del Rey has shaped this record — one of her most personal — as a broken mirror reflecting her multitudes of sorrow and desire.
On the soft-treading, John Denver-mentioning opener “The Grants,” Del Rey is pensive and resolute in her retrieval of memories from a failed relationship; a bit of healing after rawer emotional wounds sliced up Blue Banisters. The tone quickly becomes sexual and desperate on the more cinematic title track, with its wild refrain: “Open me up, tell me you like it / Fuck me to death, love me until I love myself.”
She rebounds a song later on “Sweet,” declaring with classic Del Rey venom: “I’m a different kind of woman / If you want some basic bitch go to the Beverly Center.”
But then she appears wholly dejected moments later on “A&W,” where she details “fuck(ing) on the hotel floor” of a Ramada Inn, and dolefully exhales: “It’s not about havin’ someone to love me anymorе / This is the experiеnce of bein’ an American whore.”
“A&W” functions loosely as this album’s “Venice Bitch,” the oversized centerpiece where the first half of the track gives way to thick, bending layers of sound and studio trickery. But where producer Jack Antonoff’s inspired work launched “Venice Bitch” into space four and a half years ago, “A&W” reaches for a contrived interpolation of “Down, Down Baby,” the oft-repurposed playground song. Del Rey’s take is smooth, working in some breathy chiding — “your mom called, I told her you’re fucking up big time,” but the whole conceit just feels tired. The rhyme should’ve died with Nelly’s “Country Grammar” revamp two decades ago. Moreover, any Swift fans who binged Midnights will find the drum samples and vocal pitching all too familiar.
The album takes a spiritual if not extraneous turn on the over-long “Judah Smith Interlude,” a seemingly phone-recorded sermon from the celebrity pastor, preaching on-topic about “a life contaminated with lust” and begging God to “Help me … I wanna be a man in love, not a man in lust.” The sounds of Del Rey agreeing in some moments and laughing in others can be heard, suggesting she recorded the clip herself. It’s five minutes we’ll never get back.
Under Ocean Blvd mirrors Chemtrails (and 2017’s excellent Lust for Life) in its use of featured artists to boost the mood. Jon Batiste, the Grammy-winning jazz pianist and singer, injects a memorable melody on “Candy Necklace” — a dream-like dirge of obsession and woe: “Sittin’ on the sofa, feelin’ supеr suicidal / Hate to say the word, but, baby, hand on the Bible,” she listlessly croons. Batiste also earns his own interlude, which lends a welcome free-wheeling party atmosphere (and further piano mastery).
The album’s other collaborations, however, are unremarkable. The folksy Father John Misty duet “Let the Light In” plays like a Daisy Jones & the Six B-side. “Margaret,” featuring Antonoff’s band Bleachers — and written by Del Rey about Antonoff’s relationship with his fianceé Margaret Qualley — is sweet enough but decidedly undercooked. And Canadian rapper Tommy Genesis’ floats in space as she delivers a bumping hook on “Peppers,” short for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the latest random rock band to earn a Del Rey name-drop after Kings of Leon and the White Stripes two albums ago.
The finale “Taco Truck x VB” adds a positive spin — it sounds like Del Rey has a boyfriend again, whom she meets at said truck — though the track contains what must be her lyrical nadir: “That’s why they call me Lanita / When I get down like bonita.” The song finishes with bass-heavy pieces of “Venice Bitch,” reminding listeners of what once was.
While Del Rey chose not to promote Blue Banisters in 2021, allowing the album to exist without the concern of maximized consumption, Under Ocean Blvd feels more like the unapologetic passion project — an album only vital to LDR completists. After a career spent under the magnifying lens, she may truly be fresh out of fucks forever.