Lana Del Rey begins her new album with “The Grants,” contemplating death, family, and Americana — themes that have been long present in her music and are in no shortage on this record. Released March 24, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is her ninth studio album.
Born Elizabeth Grant, Del Rey named the title track after her family, and on it, she ponders which pieces of her family she will take with her when she dies: her sister’s firstborn child, her grandmother’s last smile. “My pastor told me when you leave all you take is your memories … And I’m gonna take mine of you with me,” sings Del Rey, and that sentiment sets the tone for the album to come. “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is an introspective, reflective album on which Del Rey seems to be making sense of the events of her life and deciding how she will remember them.
She’s no stranger to death as a theme, in her music or in her public image (she famously told The Guardian “I wish I was dead already” in 2014 and no one forgot it), but on this record, death seems less like a way out and more like a lens through which to look at her life’s journey.
Those dark undertones are arguably most prominent in “Fingertips,” which might just be the emotional peak of what is already an extremely emotional album. It combines the theme of death with family as Del Rey describes her tenuous relationship with her mother, asks questions of her siblings Caroline and Charlie, and discusses her teenaged suicide attempt.
But as much as “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is an intense journey through Del Rey’s tumultuous life, it’s also hopeful as it looks forward. “Paris, Texas (feat. SYML),” comes next and is a turning point of both the album and of the journey we’re on with Del Rey, as she sings, “I went to Paris (Texas) / With a suitcase in my hand / I had to leave / Knew they wouldn’t understand.” She has learned when to leave, and finds home in California. On “Grandfather, please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing (feat. RIOPY),” Del Rey asks her (presumably dead) grandfather to protect her father and asks God to send her a sign if he is near. Her desire for her father’s protection contrasts “Fingertips’” lyrics about her mother.
There are other examples of connected tracks. “Kintsugi,” for instance, has a refrain of “That’s how the light gets in,” which calls forth to “Let The Light In (feat. Father John Misty).” That song is about a not-always-perfect relationship, but more positive, perhaps, than the one described in “Candy Necklace” (feat. Jon Batiste).
And on both “Sweet” and “A&W,” Del Rey scrutinizes her womanhood. On “Sweet,” she asks big questions, “Do you want children? Do you want to marry me?” and sings “I’ve got things to do, / like nothing at all, I wanna do them with you / Do you wanna do them with me? / If you want someone, then just call me up / And remember where I’ll be.” “Sweet” perfectly evokes that vulnerable feeling, of wanting to be with someone but only wanting them to know you want it if they want it too.
“A&W” takes this idea of the vulnerable woman and turns it on its head. “Look at the length of my hair and my face, the shape of my body / Do you really think I give a damn / What I do after years of just hearing them talking?” she begins by asking the critics before adopting the reality of what she calls “bein’ an American whore”: “Call him up, come into my bedroom / Ended up, we fuck on the hotel floor / It’s not about havin’ someone to love me anymore.” That last line seems to be a direct callback to “Sweet,” representing the complexity of women, as well as the divisive binary imposed by society between the obediently married woman and sexually liberated slut.
Del Rey ends the the album with “Taco Truck x VB,” a fantastic track that remixes “Venice Bitch” (from “Norman Fucking Rockwell!”) with new lyrics. She sings “Imagine if we actually gave a fuck … Print it to the black and white pages, don’t faze me … I know I know I know that you hate me.” It’s a very apt last track, a kind of final ‘fuck you’ that fits in to both the vibe of the album and of her career. The critics, even the fans, don’t matter much. The music, particularly the hyper-personal journey she goes on in this album, is for her.