Photo Credit: Neil Krug
Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is Lana Del Rey’s version of the Beatles’ untitled “The White Album.” Like the Beatles had done the previous year with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Lana Del Rey has already written her magnum opus. Norman F*cking Rockwell! was a fantastic album on so many levels, disguising its apocalyptic message in a vintage-sounding letter from the heart of Laurel Canyon that established her as the voice of her generation, just like the Beatles had done with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
“The White Album” was undeniably a Beatles album, but it was also a 94-minute brainstorm with enough space for every crazy idea any of their members had. Similarly, when Lana Del Rey now turns the page after NFR!’s two twin records Chemtrails over the Country Club and Blue Banisters, she’s inviting a row of featured artists and producers (along with Jack Antonoff) to present her craziest album to date. Trap beats, vocal modifications, strange nursery rhymes about Angelina Jolie – everything fits on this 77-minute giant.
Lana Del Rey has never shed from being controversial. Since she rose to fame with 2012’s Born to Die, she has confused fans and critics alike. Was she a Trump supporter? Was she anti-vax? Have we all been tricked to believe in the myth she – or the team behind her – created around herself? “I know they think that it took somebody else to make me beautiful,” she sings on the gorgeous, minimalistic yet enormous “grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep sea fishing,” in yet another attempt to shake those kinds of accusations off. And it’s hard not to believe her. I can’t think of anyone else with her star status who would post topless promotional pictures of herself and sing a line like “f*ck me to death // love me until I love myself,” only to include a four-minute iPhone recording of a celebrity preacher, Judah Smith, preaching about the importance of a secure family.
So, if Lana Del Rey will never go the history as a “boring” person – what about Lana del Rey the musician? Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is boring in the same way that Blood on the Tracks, Songs of Love and Hate, and River are boring. Boring the same way as reading a Nobel Prize-winning book is boring. It demands to be taken seriously, and it demands your attention. It demands 77 careful minutes of your time, and then another 77, and another 77. The long title isn’t an attempt to be pretentious – it’s a poetic expression of falling into oblivion – an overarching theme that goes throughout the album as Lana references Harry Nilsson, John Denver, and Wim Wenders’ 1984 movie Paris, Texas.
“My pastor told me when you leave all you take is your memories // And I’m gonna take mine of you with me,” she sings on the enchanting opener “The Grants,” the first song on an album overflowing with cinematic beauty and some of the finest lyrics written by a female musician since Joni Mitchell’s days. Like no one else, Lana del Rey knows how to create visual images inside our heads as we’re listening. Just like Bob Dylan took us all the way to that bleak and love-less loft on “Visions of Johanna,” Lana takes us inside the room where a late-night secret love affair with Father John Misty takes place in the middle of the night on the whining, ‘70s-tinged “Let the Light In.”
But the gorgeous piano ballads aside – and there are many – the most exciting parts of the album is when Lana gets off to a bad trip. “A&W” continues the storyline of NFR!’s “Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have,” at a stage where all the hope is gone. “It’s not about having someone to love me anymore // this is the experience of being an American whore,” she sings over a fluid piano line, delivering some of her most pristine vocals. “Look at my hair, look at my legs and the shape of my body // If I told you that I was raped do you really think anybody would think I didn’t ask for it?” she asks before suddenly crashing into the acceptance of her misery, to a dark place where “Jimmy only love me when he wanna get high.” The rant-like character, the trap-flirtations, and the biographical lyrics make it a distinctive highlight in her catalog, different from anything she or any of her peers have ever done.
Did You Know There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is a masterpiece, it’s just too early for people to get that – just like it took many years until people understood “The White Album.” Every negative thing I’ve heard about it comes from people thinking it’s “boring.” It seems as if this album therefore also reflects the worst things about today’s society, where we are too busy being stimulated with cheap thrills and irritating TikToks to reward us with an album as demanding as this. And it’s fine, I’ve been there too. But trust my words, in 50 years, this album will be a classic.