Lana Del Rey returns as the high priestess of sad girl music HARMONY GERBER/ WIKICOMMONS,

Lana Del Rey’s reputation as the high priestess of sad girl music precedes her. From the doomed Hollywood starlet moniker, to the lyrics that conjure up a melancholic Americana exclusively populated by cherry cola-drinking, Marlboro-smoking James Dean lookalikes, Del Rey has arguably transcended the realm of being ‘real’ to instead being a persona that exclusively exists in the realm of aesthetic Pinterest boards and soft grunge blogs.

“Del Rey seems adamant to dispel the notion that she’s a facade”

Yet, in her ninth studio album, the snappily titled Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard, the question of Del Rey’s authenticity is brought to the forefront. Del Rey seems adamant to dispel the notion that she’s a facade, and there’s no doubt that this album proves that the singer has authenticity in spades across the album’s experimental, if slightly overlong, runtime.

The album marks a fantastic return to form for the singer, finally breaking free from the shadow of 2019’s critically acclaimed NFR! to create an album that has a distinct and intriguing identity. Tracks such as “The Grants”, the gospel-led opening track on the album, and the memorably titled “Grandfather Please Stand on the Shoulders of My Father While He's Deep-Sea Fishing” showcase Del Rey at her rawest and most confessional as she sings about family, mortality, and the painful processes of memory.

There’s a hint of Joni Mitchell present in the haunting lyrics “will the baby be alright?/ will I have one of mine? [...] it’s said that my mind/ is not fit [...] to carry a child” on the track “Fingertips”, a folk-inspired highlight of the album. Long-time collaborator Jack Antonoff’s minimalist production and use of cascading pianos, while not always beneficial to the world of pop music (looking at you, Solar Power), works flawlessly here, seamlessly blending with Del Rey’s velvety vocals.

However, the line between heart-wrenchingly reflective and cloyingly self-indulgent is toed a few too many times. Tracks like “Judah Smith Interlude” — a sermon recorded on an iPhone and set to some discordant piano — left me feeling as though Antonoff’s less-is-more approach to production should’ve been applied to choosing tracks too. Regardless, where the album shines is in its odd, slightly off-kilter moments. Though some creative choices, such as the iPhone-recorded sermon, are duffers, other moments, such as the throbbing bass that comes in midway through “A&W”, and the sultry spoken word vocal delivery of “Peppers”, are real highlights of the album, bringing the moody Americana sound that defined Del Rey’s early albums back to the forefront.


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The sound of these two tracks, along with the electronica-infused vocals of “Fishtail” and the delightfully bizarre closing track “Taco Truck x VB”, all seem to be self-consciously working within a post-TikTok world, drawing on the sounds of Del Rey’s demo tracks, which have found an unlikely revival on the video app. Not that Del Rey would ever openly admit to it; indeed, with the average song length on the album being around five minutes long, Ocean Boulevard almost serves as a refreshing reminder that artists need not compromise their creative vision in order to cater to radio play times or TikTok sound bites.

Unflinchingly authentic and unapologetically experimental, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Boulevard is a fantastic return to form. Blending old and new sounds, while still taking the album in a new direction, deserves recognition, even in spite of the occasional misfire and the tendency to drag on. Del Rey herself states on “Fingertips”: “I just needed two seconds to be me”. Well, 77 minutes works just fine too.