Lana Del Rey’s newest album explores family, religion and love

When her breakout album “Born to Die” came out in 2012, Lana Del Rey faced an onslaught of criticism for lackluster songwriting and a seemingly fabricated public persona. 

In the 11 years since its release, the singer has continued to fall in and out of public favor. When she released her 2019 album “Norman Fucking Rockwell” to critical acclaim, it seemed she had finally been embraced as the Americana fairytale she strives to be, earning her first two Grammy Awards nominations. 

In March 2021, Del Rey dropped her seventh album “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” and quickly received backlash for a controversial Instagram post that accompanied the album announcement. In response, the singer quietly put out her album “Blue Banisters” in the same year, hoping to quell some of the rumors and drama that surrounded her career. 

With the release of her ninth studio album, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” on March 24, Del Rey sought to reclaim the narrative once and for all. 

As her most vulnerable work yet, the album explores themes of love, family, death and religion. Though it includes a variety of features and samples from artists such as Father John Misty, SYML, Jack Antonoff and Tommy Genesis, the album stays true to the heart of who Del Rey is. 

The opening track “The Grants” introduces listeners to the major themes of the album, enlisting the help of Melodye Perry and Pattie Howard — former backing vocalists for Whitney Houston — as Del Rey sings about the afterlife and her hopes to take memories of her loved ones with her in death. 

This concept of family can also be found in other tracks, most notably in “Kintsugi” and “Fingertips.” The former draws inspiration from a traditional Japanese art form, in which broken pieces of pottery are repaired and sealed with gold, demonstrating that embracing flaws and imperfections can create a stronger and more beautiful work of art. In the track, Del Rey sings about the deaths of family members and how she was able to process her grief. 

“Fingertips” is arguably the singer’s most personal song yet, delving fully into her past in an attempt to dispel any lasting rumors. In the song, Del Rey worries about the health and future of her siblings and niece and fantasizes about having children of her own. She sings about the day she learned of her uncle’s death and further opens up about her mental health issues. Though the idea of strong family ties is recurrent throughout the album, Del Rey discusses the strained relationship she has with her mother, who sent her away from home when she was a teenager.

Del Rey also mentions her mother in the opening lines of “A&W,” clarifying they have not seen each other for many years. This track follows the singer as she grows from an innocent child into an “American w----” by societal standards. This change is represented in the second half of the song, transitioning from a soft piano ballad into a trap beat — a sound that hasn't been heard in the singer’s music since her 2017 album “Lust for Life.”

Further departing from the ballad style of her previous three albums, tracks such as “Fishtail,” “Peppers” and “Taco Truck x VB” verge on the experimental side. Del Rey borrows sounds from various other songs, such as Tommy Genesis’ 2015 track “Angelina” and a grungier version of her own 2019 track “Venice Bitch.”

The “Judah Smith Interlude” serves as a sharp contrast from its preceding track “A&W,” sharing a portion of a sermon delivered by the pastor, Judah Smith, on the dangers of lust. Del Rey can be heard laughing over the track and mimicking Smith’s word choices, but the end of the sermon seems to ring true for the singer as the pastor explains that he preaches for himself and not for others. This concept is replicated in Del Rey’s songwriting, delving into her own stories while making clear that she does not care for what others say about her. 

Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing” also broaches the topic of religion as Del Rey asks God to send her a sign he is listening. This track addresses rumors of the singer’s past, clarifying she has never claimed to be someone she is not.

As the album closes out with “Taco Truck x VB,” Del Rey leaves her parting note on the drama that surrounds her, singing “Print it into black and white pages, don’t faze me/ Before you talk, let me stop what you’re saying/ I know, I know, I know that you hate me.” 

As the final track comes to a close, there is one thing abundantly clear about Lana Del Rey: she seems happier. It may not be overt as she sings delicately over a ballad about her grief, but it appears to be the overlaying message. No longer does she sing of feeling askew, having reconnected with her family and their lineage. 

Instead of wishing for death as an escape, as her earlier albums suggest, she hopes it brings her peace when the time is right. Though she reflects on failed relationships of her own, she celebrates those of her closest friends and family. 

While accepting the 2023 Billboard Women in Music Visionary Award, the singer mentioned this change

“If you were curious, I am very, very happy,” Del Rey said. “When I released my first album 14 years ago, the waters were not quite as warm… I feel like being happy is the ultimate goal, so I did it.”

“Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is a deeply personal album, detailing what the singer describes as her “innermost thoughts.” At the core, it is a celebration of Lana Del Rey in her purest form and one that might just be the magnum opus of her career. 

Rating: 10/10

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