Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd // Lana Del Rey Album Review

Lana Del Rey's ninth album, Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, is an intimate, diaristic portrait of her life and journey so far. In many ways, it is her most personal release yet, as if she is writing these songs for nobody but herself and her own healing. When talking about the process of writing the album in 2022, she told W Magazine, "I’ve been practicing meditative automatic singing, where I don’t filter anything. I’ll just sing whatever comes to mind into my Voice Notes app. It’s not perfect, obviously," she said. "For this new music ... It’s more just like: I’m angry. The songs are very conversational ... It’s a very wordy album. ... It’s almost like I’m typing in my mind." That method is present throughout the entire album, many of the songs are long and often with heavy subject matter at hand, in which she doesn't hold back at all. There is a lot of symbolism and depth in every single track. While all of her albums have been deeply personal, Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd feels like her most autobiographical, telling her complete story unfiltered. 

I was lucky enough to hear this album two days before it was released, at a special early listening party in my local record store. It was such a fun experience getting to hear the album early, and I couldn't wait to listen to it again because her music is often something that grows on you the more you listen to it. Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd is an album that takes a few listens to understand and grasp the meaning of. 

On all of Lana's albums, the opening song always represents the overarching theme of the rest of the record. "The Grants" perfectly captures what this album is about - her family. She dedicates this song and album to them as she sings, "So many mountains too high to climb, so many rivers so long, but I'm doin' the hard stuff, I'm doin' my time, I'm doin' it for us, for our family line". It has gospel elements, which is so different for her sonically, but compliments the lyrics perfectly. "Do you think about Heaven? Do you think about me? My pastor told me when you leave, all you take is your memory, and I'm gonna take mine of you with me", she sings. In the final verse, she says the memories that she's going to take with her, "my sister's first-born child", "my grandmother's last smile", and finishes it with "it's a beautiful life, remember that too for me".

Her family is a theme that has been prominent on a lot of her recent work, especially Blue Banisters. When she spoke recently about that album in Rolling Stone UK, Lana said, "...Blue Banisters was more of an explanatory album, more of a defensive album, which is why I didn’t promote it, period, at all. I didn’t want anyone to listen to it. I just wanted it to be there in case anyone was ever curious for any information." Songs like "Wildflower Wildfire" set her up to her to be able to write "Kintsugi" and "Fingertips", which are some of her most confessional songs yet. 

Throughout so much of the album, Lana is repeatedly contemplating religion and her own mortality, while questioning what her legacy will be when she's gone. "Don't forget me, like the tunnel under Ocean Boulevard", she pleas to the listener on the second song, the album's title track. In Rolling Stone UK, she explained the meaning of the title "Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd", "That was a question I had because that’s a very plausible thing that could happen with the music, with how pointed people’s perceptions of my music can be," she explains. "Would it probably, plausibly, get to the point where it became a body of work that made me a vessel that was sequestered to the point where only family would have access to the metaphorical tunnel?" It is really interesting to think about this album as a tunnel of sorts, the first half starts off heavy, where she is asking herself existential questions and opening up about the darkest points in her life. The second half of the album is when she lets the light in, literally and figuratively. 

She expresses a sense of longing in several aspects of her life throughout this album. Lana repeatedly asks herself in "Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd", "When's it going to be my turn?" When I was reading her Rolling Stone UK cover story, I was struck by a Sylvia Plath passage that Lana noted was an inspiration behind this song, more specifically that line. From The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath wrote, "I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet." Of that passage, Lana said, "It’s giving fig tree...It’s giving Sylvia Plath, so many figs and if I don’t pick one first, they’ll all wither away and then there will be no figs to choose from." In the third song, "Sweet", she goes into specifics about what these hypothetical figs may be for her as she sings, "Do you want children? Do you wanna marry me? Do you wanna run marathons in Long Beach by the sea? I've got things to do, like nothing at all, I wanna do them with you, do you wanna do them with me?" 

The fourth track, "A&W" is one of the greatest songs she has ever written. It is a seven minute rollercoaster that takes the listener on such an emotional journey, the first half being some of her most raw and confessional lyrics of her discography. It kind of feels like she is taking back the narrative of what people have called her throughout her career, in the media or otherwise, and telling her side of the story - "Do you really think I give a damn what I do after years of just hearing them talking?" she sings. In the chorus Lana continues, "It's not about having someone to love me anymore, this is the experience of being an American whore". In each verse, she opens up about some of the darkest moments she has experienced in her life, from tumultuous, abusive relationships, to her often being portrayed negatively in the media. It sparks an important conversation around the way women are far too often negatively perceived and scrutinized, especially looking at it through the lens of her experience in the music industry. In the first verse Lana sings, "I'm a princess, I'm divisive, ask me why, why, why I'm like this" "A&W" flips the script of what people's perceptions of her are and the reality behind the scenes of the persona she crafted for herself at the start of her mainstream career. The third verse is the most heartbreaking, I didn't even pick up on the weight of the words she was singing the first few times I heard the song because she almost whispers them. She sings, "I mean look at my hair, look at the length of it and the shape of my body, if I told you that I was r*ped, do you really think that anybody would think I didn't ask for it? I didn't ask for it, I won't testify, I already fucked up my story" - after of which she reveals, "on top of this, so many other things you can't believe".

A song like "A&W" showcases the strength she has an artist to be able to write lyrics that are so thought-provoking and poetic, while also being brutally honest with the reality she has faced. No one else is on her level in that regard. Unexpectedly, "A&W" turns into a completely different song for the second half. It has one of the most iconic transitions since Lorde's "Hard Feelings / Loveless" (thanks to Jack Antonoff for producing both!) After the emotional first part of the song, it was so unexpected to hear the turn it takes - which is something that happens more than once throughout this album. Jack talked about that "...weird whiplash of not knowing what you’re supposed to feel," in an interview with Rolling Stone UK. "That sensation is across the album: you could dissect the tone of whether it’s hints of gospel or bringing back some of the 808s and the fucked-up side of things. But in the studio, it was just about finding what is shocking in the moment," he continued. It reminds me of some of her unreleased songs from early in her career, it's so fun and has a level of loose spontaneity that shines through in her voice as she sings, "Love me if you love or not, you can be my light, Jimmy only love me when he wanna get high" and my favorite line, "Your mom called, I told her you're fucking up big time!"

"Candy Necklace" is one of the songs that grew on me the most since I first hear it. Sonically it reminds me of a lot of the music from Ultraviolence, as well as in terms of the darkness in the lyricism. She sings, "You've been actin' pretty reckless, dancin' like the young and restless and I'm obsessеd with this". Much like "A&W", there are moments that are really heavy and emotional, "Sittin' on the sofa, feelin' supеr suicidal, hate to say the word, but, baby, hand on the Bible, I do, feel like it's you the one who's bringin' me down". It also features a haunting piano instrumental from Jon Batiste and his vocals in the song's outro. He is also featured in the next song, an interlude named after him. It is mostly a piano solo with audio from the recording studio of people laughing and talking. I don't mind it, at least it is more atmospheric than the "Judah Smith Interlude", the fifth track, which is honestly unlistenable. It really takes the listener out of the flow that the rest of the album has. I just can't see myself ever returning to it, I don't really get anything out of what Judah Smith, who is a celebrity pastor and co-founder of the megachurch Churchome, is talking about. At a nearly 5 minute run-time, it just goes on for way too long. However, the juxtaposition of putting the audio of a pastor's sermon directly after a song like "A&W" does feel representative of the message of this album as a whole. 

"Kintsugi" is named after the Japanese artform of repairing broken pieces of pottery with gold, silver and platinum. In the Japanese culture, they see those broken fragments as a part of the piece's history, rather than a flaw. Lana uses that philosophy on the eighth track as she sings "that's how the light gets in", as if those broken pieces of ourselves should be something to be celebrated and honored as a part of our journey. There are so many lyrics that are just so heart wrenching: "And I just can't stop cryin' 'cause all of the ways, when you see someone dying, you see all your days flash in front of you" and "Daddy, I miss them, I'm in the mountains, I'm probably runnin' away from the feelings I get when I think all the things about them" are two that stand out to me every time I listen that I connect with the most. The words flow like poetry, she really has such a talent for evoking strong feelings from her lyricism. 

"Fingertips" is one of the most personal on the album, which started as what she called "messy" voice notes that she sent to the producer Drew Erickson, one of the primary collaborators of Blue Banisters, who was able to turn it into a "masterfully planned song". The instrumental is simple, with the spotlight being only on the autobiographical story she is telling through the lyrics. As she did with songs like "The Grants" and the previous track "Kintsugi", among others, this song is very rooted in her family's lineage. She goes into detail about her family's past, including the death of her grandparents and uncle, her love for her brother and sister, her struggles with mental health, addiction, and more. All of these are topics she has been open about in her music before, but "Fingertips" is on a new level in terms of the amount of detail she goes into about it. It is truly such a heartbreaking song, one that really does put so much of her past work into a new perspective. "They say there's irony in the music, it's a tragedy, I see nothing Greek in it", is a lyric that feels so representative of all of the emotions that make up so much of the first part of the album, especially considering a song like "A&W". In this song, she also goes into detail about her estranged relationship with her mother, "What the fuck's wrong in your head to send me away, never to come back? Exotic places and people don't take the place of being your child, I give myself two seconds to cry", she sings to her. Later in song, she even symbolically censors the word "mother" in the lyric that she sings to her sister - "Caroline, what kind of ... was she to say I'd end up in institutions?"

In Rolling Stone UK, she talked about the process of making this song, "'Fingertips' is not a good song or a big song but it definitely explains everything. I felt like that was important because everyone was always like ... explain yourself. And I was like, 'Okay, let me do this really quickly, I’ll tell you everything I’m thinking in two minutes in a seven-minute song and just rip through it and edit it.' That song kind of says it all. Between that song and 'Wildflower Wildfire' on Blue Banisters, you can get a lot ... of everything." I said earlier that it feels as if she is writing this album for nobody but herself and her own sense of healing from the traumas she has experienced in her life, which is especially true of "Fingertips". Lana once again practices an automatic, free-flowing, form of songwriting on this track of thoughts that have been weighing heavy on her mind. "Will the baby be alright? Will I have one of mine? Can I handle it even if I do?" to which she continues, "It wasn't my idea, the cocktail of things that twists neurons inside, but without them, I'd die". The final lines beautifully describe who she is behind it all, "Sunbather, moon chaser, queen of empathy, I give myself two seconds to breathe and go back to being a serene queen", to which she ends the song with, "I just needed two seconds to be me". 

"Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he's deep sea fishing", the eleventh track, is another song that serves as a tribute to her late grandfather, asking him to look over her family. She is also on a pursuit to reclaim her narrative once again with the lyric, "I know they think that it took thousands of people to put me together again like an experiment, some big men behind the scenes, sewing Frankenstein black dreams into my songs, but they're wrong". Over the years there has been a lot of debate over her music, her "persona" and her worthiness of the success she has, but this song feels like the most succinct way for her to set the record straight in every regard. "If you don't believe me, my poetry, or my melodies, feel it in your bones, I have good intentions even if I'm one of the last ones". No matter how ridiculously long they may seem at first, Lana always has some of the most creative titles for her work - on "Grandfather..." the title fits into this song more naturally than I anticipated it would and is such a beautiful track overall. My favorite lyric is, "God, if you'rе near me, send mе three white butterflies or an owl to know you're listening, or a map to know your vision, impart on me your wisdom".

After so much of Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd to this point is about Lana facing her innermost struggles and darkest moments of her past, "Paris, Texas" feels like the turning point where she is ready to leave it all behind. "When you know, you know, it's time, it's time to go, when you know, you know, that it's time to leave like the summer breeze", she sings. It is a song about leaving everything she knows behind and trying to find a place that feels like home to her. She travels the world looking for it, from Spain to Paris, Texas to Florence, Alabama and Venice, California. By the last verse, she eventually feels at peace in Venice, California, "When you're home, you're home (Venice, California), you're home, when you're alone", she sings. This was another immediate favorite for me from the album, the piano instrumental by RIOPY is so gorgeous.

The term "when you know, you know" is a recurring lyric present in the thirteenth track, "Margaret". The song features Bleachers and is dedicated to Jack Antonoff's fiancé, Margaret Qualley. I love all of the music Lana and Jack have made together over the past several years and this song feels like such a beautiful tribute to their friendship and a celebration of love. It starts off with telling the story of how Jack and Margaret met, "This is a simple song, gonna write it for a friend ... He met Margaret on a rooftop, she was wearin' white and he was like, 'I might be in trouble'". I love how the signature Bleachers sound is incorporated into this song, especially with Jack's verse; "Word to all my friends, with their rеd flags, their white knights, their black еyes and their blue lies, if you're askin' yourself, 'How do you know?' Then that's your answer, the answer is 'No'". It is such a joyous song, one that is so beautiful and simply written. As much as I enjoy the three songs that come after this on the track list, I could have seen this being the closing song, because it ends on such an uplifting and inspiring note. I love the spoken word interlude before the final verse from Lana, "So if you don't know, don't give up, 'cause you never know what the new day might bring, maybe tomorrow you'll know ... I mean, join the party, by the way, the party is December 18". 

"Let the Light In" is a beautiful piece of storytelling, one that evokes so much nostalgia, it was one of my favorites since I first heard the album. The song features Father John Misty, who is her frequent collaborator. Their voices complement each other so well and I look forward to hearing more of their collaborations in the future. It feels like it could be interpreted as a continuation of "Tomorrow Never Came", which is a duet she did with Sean Ono Lennon on Lust For Life. That connection feels very intentional, which is especially reflective in the lyric; "'Cause I love to love, to love, to love you, I hate to hate, to hate, to hate you, put The Beatles on, light the candles, go back to bed". 

"Fishtail" was another highlight of the album when I first heard it. It is so cinematic and descriptive of the settings and emotions expressed, as all of her best songs are. The production is also incredible and I love the way she sings the chorus, "I was on the stairs, Ella Fitzgerald in the air, feelin' hella rare, baby, if you care, baby, don't you dare say, you'll braid my hair". The lyric, "I'm not that smart, but I've got things to say", is another great line that reflects so much of her as an artist. "Fishtail" has an addictive, catchy element that I just can't get enough of - which I also love about "Peppers" too. It has a bit of a hip-hop crossover, which feels reminiscent of some of her work from Lust For Life or the latter half of "A&W". It also feels so fun and messy (in the best way), as a lot of her early music did when she still went by Lizzy Grant, especially as she repeatedly exclaims "I'm in love!" It features a sampling of Tommy Genesis' 2015 song "Angelina" on the chorus, "Hands on your knees, Angelina Jolie ... you can braid my hair, do a fat criss-cross in the back somewhere" - the hair braiding reference is also a cute callback to the previous track too. 

The album ends with the song "Taco Truck x VB", which like "A&W", is another track that is split into two different parts. The second part of the track "VB", short for "Venice Bitch", is a sampling of her iconic song from Norman Fucking Rockwell! I am the biggest "Venice Bitch" fan, it is truly one of my favorite songs ever and I love it so much - however, I have trouble understanding why almost half of this song is made up of a trap remix of another. It doesn't add anything to this song that the original "Venice Bitch" doesn't already have. Maybe I just expected more from it after Rolling Stone UK called it the "...grimy, heavy, original and unheard version of 'Venice Bitch'", but it really doesn't sound any different other than the added "get high", "drop acid" lines in the bridge. If this was the arrangement for a live setlist on tour, that would be different, but I just don't think it fits well enough to end the entire album. It would have been better if "Taco Truck" was it's own stand-alone song, and only sampled the line "sounding off, bang, bang, kiss, kiss" in the outro. 

With that being said, I do love the "Taco Truck" part of it, not only does it have a fun and carefree vibe, it also feels like it's her acknowledgement of how this album isn't for critics, or really for anyone other than herself creatively. She sings, "Spin it 'til you whip it into white cream, baby, 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".  In Rolling Stone UK, Jack Antonoff talked about the approach they had with the artistic direction of her music that feels very representative of that sentiment, "Lana is boundaryless ... She’s reached a point in her work, which is really my favorite place to work from, where there’s nowhere to go but way out into the fucking wilderness artistically. Go chase radio? That’d be so stupid. Go chase trends? So stupid. She created all the trends. It’s a freeing place, if you can accept it. The only place to go is to be a leader.” 

Lana Del Rey's unfiltered, thoughtful approach to her music and life shines through in every song on Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd. With full transparency and no creative boundaries holding her back, she has managed to create yet another stunning album. An artist like Lana Del Rey is truly a once in a lifetime kind of talent and I love to see her continually evolve with each new release.

Thanks for reading! I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below! If you are interested in reading more of my thoughts on Lana Del Rey's music, check out my album reviews of Chemtrails Over The Country Club and Blue Banisters

-Melissa ♡

Photo Credit: Lana Del Rey, Neil Krug, Interscope Records

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