Lana Del Rey’s most personal album may be her best: review

Lana Del Rey’s expansive and obsessive new LP – “the ninth studio album,” as the cover describes it in a flourish of self-mythologizing graphic design – is the one on which this great American collage artist begins cutting and pasting herself.

Known for appearing over a decade ago for alluding to and borrowing from the music of Lou Reed, Nancy Sinatra, Joni Mitchell and the Beach Boys, among others, Del Rey quotes a line from her own song “Cinnamon Girl” and she reuses a string arrangement from her “Norman F—ing Rockwell” before closing the record with a lusciously spooky dub-trap remake of 2019’s “Venice Bitch,” singing “Get high” on “Never.” die” and “drop acid” rhymes. with Lake Placid.

And why not? At 37, Del Rey has risen to a level of prestige that for her younger heirs – including famous fans like Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo – more or less matches the esteem she holds for those in her pantheon; In addition, she is almost as revered by musicians of the generation before her: Stevie Nicks, who appeared on Del Rey’s “Lust for Life” in 2017; Cat Power, who covered her “White Mustang”; and Courtney Love, who recently told Marc Maron that Del Rey and Kurt Cobain are “the only two true musical geniuses I’ve ever known.”

Note that Del Rey’s 2012 major-label debut Born to Die with new album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is inspired by a long-forgotten Long Beach underground passageway. is in its 475th week on the Billboard 200, an indication of a cultural enduring few could have imagined when that album prompted skeptical opinions about Del Rey’s artistic authenticity.

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And yet the self-sanctification she undertakes on “Ocean Blvd” isn’t just a gimmick (although she doubts those old reviews a little, as when sarcastically speaking of “big men behind the scenes sewing black Frankenstein dreams into my songs “). Rather, her evocation of Lana’s past is a way of crafting a work of determined introspection, in which she takes stock of the social and emotional forces that have shaped her ideas about family, marriage, art, motherhood, sex, celebrity, and death—” the stuff that’s the heart of things,” as she puts it in Sweet.

In fact, the scope of their scrutiny is so broad that their nine studio LP tally includes a little-heard 2010 indie project released under the name Lana Del Ray (note the slightly different spelling); Ocean Blvd’s opener, The Grants, harks back even further to her childhood as Elizabeth Grant in Lake Placid, NY.

“My pastor told me if you go, all you take is your memory,” she sings, haunted yet happy, over church piano chords, “And I’ll take mine from you.”

Del Rey isn’t the only A-list pop star to dabble in this kind of personal history. “Endless Summer Vacation,” by Miley Cyrus, another of her admirers, has a similar My Back Pages energy, while Taylor Swift — who Del Rey recruited and is dating for a cameo on “Midnights” last year a key studio shares staff from Jack Antonoff – just embarked on a blockbuster stadium tour to showcase a cast of past selves.

But Del Rey’s thinking, and by extension her songwriting, is the deepest and most penetrating. In The Grants, she reflects on the comforts and responsibilities of being a daughter and a sister; “Fingertips” recalls the tragic death of an uncle and a high school crush, and explores the singer’s troubled relationship with her mother. Del Rey ponders romance in “Let the Light In,” a country duet with Father John Misty, and the tender “Margaret,” which she wrote about Antonoff’s engagement to actress Margaret Qualley.

An album cover

Lana Del Rey’s new LP Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd.

(Interscope records)

“A&W,” whose title shortens “American Whore” while knowingly reminiscent of the nostalgic fast-food chain, takes on Del Rey’s complicated gender narrative with startling frankness: “If I told you I was raped, you think so really would anyone think I didn’t ask for it?”

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Line after line, her lyrics deliver a stunning blend of profundity and vernacular, as in “Candy Necklace,” where she’s “super suicidal on the sofa / hate to say the word but, baby, hand on the Bible, The I do.” Enjoy the intricate rhythms in those words! And check out her word-creating skills: “You’re so funny, I wish I could get into your thoughts,” she tells Someone in “Fishtail”; “I I’m a different kind of woman,” she explains in “Sweet.” “If you want a plain bitch, go to the Beverly Center and find her.”

At 77 minutes long, “Ocean Blvd risks” tiring the listener’s ear, which is why Del Rey and her co-producers – Antonoff along with Drew Erickson, Zach Dawes and Mike Hermosa – keep injecting unexpected sounds and textures into the largely piano of the album’s fold-based arrangements. “The Grants” has lush gospel choir backing vocals; “Fishtail” has windy synths reminiscent of Swift’s “Midnights”; “Peppers” and “Taco Truck x VB” have the kind of muddy hip-hop beats that Del Rey mostly steered clear of on the folkier albums after “Lust for Life.”

But even in its most pared-down forms, as on “Fingertips” and the desperately pretty “Paris, Texas,” Del Rey’s expressive vocals capture your attention, in part because you’re never quite sure where their slowly unwinding melodies are headed. In a recent chat with Eilish in Interview magazine, Del Rey described her approach to Ocean Blvd as “straight vibing,” and the result may remind you of how SZA sheds light on a mysterious inner world in SOS.

Del Rey’s introspective focus doesn’t mean she’s stopped using her music to depict the dense web of connections that define life in the digital age. These songs are bursting with samples, suggestions and shouts: on “Peppers” she listens to the Red Hot Chili Peppers with her boyfriend and dances to the surf rock classic “Wipe Out”, while “Kintsugi” nods to Leonard Cohen’s famous line about the light, that enters everything through a crack.

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Del Rey himself doesn’t even sing on “Judah Smith Interlude,” a 4½-minute snippet of a sermon to the stars by the controversial pastor, who also counts Justin Bieber among his flock. Yet the way Del Rey presents it, as an apparent voice recording recorded on her phone, we don’t hear Smith in the pulpit but from a pew in his megachurch; she shifts in her seat, murmuring agreement, laughing now and then whether Smith was joking or not. He has the mic, but the moment is hers.

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