Prolific singer/songwriter Elizabeth Woolridge Grant, better known as Lana Del Rey, is back with her ninth studio album and it’s a big one. Grant is no stranger to longer album runtimes (her 2017 effort, “Lust for Life,” caps out at 72 minutes), but this release, titled “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” at 77 minutes is her lengthiest yet. As someone who had admittedly never experienced a Lana Del Rey album in its entirety before, listening to and dissecting this sprawling body of work was a task both daunting and exciting.
The 16 tracks are personal and intimate, allowing us a firsthand glimpse into Grant’s current state of mind. The opener, aptly titled “The Grants,” is soaked in death. Grant sings about how she wants to carry the memories of her loved ones even through the afterlife. The track features a sullen piano as the main driving force with slowly progressing strings providing a cinematic flair.
The theme of memory is prevalent throughout this project. On the brilliant title track, Grant touches upon her own relevancy as an artist. She draws a parallel between herself and the historical but now obscure Jergins Tunnel. Alternating between the lyrics, “When’s it gonna be my turn?” and “Don’t forget me,” she wrestles with whether she wants to step out of the limelight and fade away. However, it appears she reached a conclusion as she repeats “Don’t forget me, don’t forget me” in the song’s final moments.
The one-two punch of “Kintsugi” and “Fingertips” is especially potent. The former is absolutely gorgeous with a sparse instrumental, minimal percussion and one of Grant’s best vocal performances on the project. She compares the grieving process after loved ones’ deaths to kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dust. This method leaves cracks visible, treating them as part of the history and beauty of the object. Meanwhile, “Fingertips” is an emotional therapy session featuring Grant’s stream-of-consciousness lyrics at the forefront. With no chorus, she sings about her family, friends, death, relationships with her parents, the future, her attempted suicide and more. It’s an incredibly personal song with a stunning final line: “I just needed two seconds to be me.”
The album’s range of topics continues to expand. “Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing” defends Grant’s authenticity as an artist. “Let the Light In” with fellow singer/songwriter Father John Misty tells the story of a toxic relationship with numerous hidden lyrical subtleties to be found. “Margaret” with Bleachers (Jack Antonoff) is a touching tribute to Antonoff’s fiancée, Margaret Qualley.
Weirdly enough, the worst moments on an album full of instrumentals that sound alike are when Grant attempts to switch it up. Like kintsugi pottery, the cracks are on full display. “A&W” is the most conflicted I have felt on a song in a long time. The change to a trap-inspired beat is pulled off better than expected, but Grant’s “rapping” is, to be honest, simply unlikable, lacking any sense of charisma. The repetitive “Jimmy, Jimmy, cocoa puff, Jimmy, Jimmy, ride” chorus also greatly overstays its welcome. The track, “Fishtail,” later in the album contains a much better switch-up.
“Peppers,” features another trap-inspired instrumental. Compared to Tommy Genesis, Grant sounds out of place in her own song. The combination of electronic and live drums towards the end plunges the track further into a cluttered mess. Finally, the album’s closer, “Taco Truck x VB,” is simply forgettable, an afterthought following the previous 70-plus minutes of material.
There is a phenomenal 40 to 50-minute album to be found here. Unfortunately, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” sacrifices a cohesive, succinct experience for overlong interludes and tracks that feel tacked on at the end for streaming profits. When Grant’s knack for strong songwriting is put on full display though, it leads to brilliant concepts and heartfelt moments rarely matched in the mainstream.