Lana Del Rey – Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd

Always one to extract everything she possibly can out of a metaphor, the songwriter extraordinaire Lana Del Rey’s ninth album can mostly be summed up by the one she touches on during its eighth track. Titled “Kintsugi,” it’s named after a Japanese term for repairing broken pottery in such a way that the breaks and cracks are preserved as part of the artwork’s storied history. On a project where Del Rey does a lot of musing about the legacy of her and her family – anticipating a day that she might be forgotten, like the titular tunnel with mosaic ceilings that lies dormant under Long Beach – it stands out as truly poignant.  Opening up about some family tragedies as well as, of course, her own heartbreak, Del Rey’s latest set of tracks find her embracing those cracks as part of the beauty of the whole with another helping of her trademark poetics. It’s quite a testament to both Del Rey’s songwriting ability and her mesmerizing vocals that she’s now been releasing albums that often don’t have much outside of piano and string ballads for over a decade, and scores of entranced fans still wait for the next one. There are still some surprises scattered throughout, but for the most part, once again, it’s the longing sighs and ballads that continue to show off her strengths. As she says herself on “Kintsugi” – if it cracks, that’s how the light gets in. 

Another great symbolic moment opens the album: specifically selecting her backup singers because they once performed with Whitney Houston herself, the first thing we hear on “The Grants” is them making a mistake and then recovering swiftly. And despite Del Rey’s typically breathy and beautiful tone opening the track as she contemplates heaven, I don’t think I’ve ever heard her sing as forcefully as when she sings alongside the powerhouses backing her up. A tribute to Del Rey’s late uncle, the track lyrically finds her accepting the task of preserving her family’s legacy and keep their memories alive through song. As the uncle and other family members return later on and we learn more about their stories, the true intimacy of the album reveals itself with each unfortunate detail. There’s nobody who does wistful and melodramatic quite like Lana, and you can add the title track of this project to her all-timer catalogue in that regard. Extending the themes of the previous track to the day that she herself might be forgotten, she delivers the strongest melody on the project and backs it up with its most emotionally potent delivery. Del Rey devotes a whole verse to the way Harry Nilsson sings “don’t forget me” on one of her favourite songs, and she certainly gives him a run for his money as the strings and harmonies swell near the end. For all of the interconnected themes on this one, “Sweet” feels a little less essential as Del Rey runs through some more conversational delivery about, essentially, not being like the other girls. Still, she does some of her most impressive vocal acrobatics here, extending the track’s title through about 20 notes.

Jack Antonoff has said that the track “A&W” – which really stands for “American Whore” – is his favourite track that he and Del Rey have made together, which is saying quite a lot in an impressive catalogue. A 7-minute odyssey, the track contextualizes a lot of her career and the criticisms of some of her subject matter, Del Rey essentially firing back by saying that she wishes that some of the more risqué and distasteful things she speaks about weren’t her life and her natural tendencies, but they are, and they’ll appear in her music accordingly. Over a minimal and eerie minor-key backdrop, Del Rey gets diaristic and specific about her appearance, age and insecurities while lamenting not being able to achieve real love. A sudden futuristic trap beat drop heralds the second half as Del Rey offers some creepily pitched and layered half-rapped vocals about a mystery man’s come-ons before the next interlude juxtaposes it all with a sermon about the differences between love and lust. Interestingly enough, the track “Candy Necklaces,” which might be the most traditional Del Rey song here, follows. A piano ballad – featuring piano from none other than Jon Batiste, who offers an impressive solo – that finds Del Rey romanticizing a toxic relationship and making references to Rockefeller, it’s Bond-theme cinematic and Batiste’s deep vocals complete the picture as the two intertwine into a downward spiral. “Kintsugi” appears here to close out the first half, its sparse, lo-fi nature making her words and the message hit even harder. Speaking about not being present for family deaths, Del Rey contemplates heartbreak making her stronger.

This is a highly personal album, but of all the tracks here, “Fingertips” feels the most like we weren’t even meant to hear it. There’s barely a discernable melody on it, just a 6-minute stream of consciousness delivered in Del Rey’s sweetest falsetto. Lost in some harrowing thoughts, it’s a truly compelling, touching, and borderline uncomfortable listen as she touches on survivor’s guilt, childhood crushes and their tragic ends, teenage abuse, being buried beside her family members, the full story of her uncle’s death, and a fascination with scientific advancements that might render us immortal one day. “Paris, Texas” is the shortest track here, a sweet tune of Del Rey singing along with a memorable piano melody in the back and playing on a variety of extravagant European cities with an American counterpart in the way that only she would. Before a long-awaited duet with Father John Misty on “Let The Light In” – their equally cynical yet bighearted approach to songwriting is a perfect match, and the loving and passionate bridge is a true highlight – we get the fascinatingly titled “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing,” where Del Rey addresses industry plant rumours over one of the most orchestral and fully fleshed-out instrumentals here. People envision her as a Frankenstein’s monster, she says, but once again, she asserts that what you see is what you get.

Introduced lyrically in the song itself as a “simple song for a friend,” “Margaret” is essentially designed to be Jack Antonoff’s wedding song. Named for his fiancé, actress Margaret Qualley, Del Rey dutifully tells the story of their meeting and the deepening understanding that they’d found the one in a cute and cheesy bridge to the album’s final moments, which almost feel a little like bonus tracks. “Fishtail” and “Peppers” are rather interconnected, sharing some lyrics – one about “skinny-dipping inside your mind” is one of the most Lana Del Rey lyrics of all time – and a hip-hop edge. Talking about childhood memories with her sister and playing around with some sonic surprises, it’s something we needed after everything we went through up to this point. The album culminates with “Taco Truck x VB,” which opens with some Latin and almost dubstep-adjacent sounds before we get a remix of the NFR! standout “Venice Bitch.”

Speaking of NFR!, it was hard to believe that Del Rey had done anything other than craft her magnum opus when that project dropped back in 2019. Already on the third album since, this is the second that actually takes yet another run at that title after 2021’s Chemtrails over the Country Club. Putting out music rapidly, Del Rey is on a highly impressive run – enjoy it while it’s on.

Favourite Tracks: Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, The Grants, Kintsugi, Let The Light In, Fingertips

Least Favourite Track: Sweet

Score: 9/10


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