Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” was released nearly one month ago, and I still struggle to find the words to properly describe it. It’s a religious experience, a self-referential work of art, an awe-inspiring masterpiece that charts its own course against the blueprint of the pop music genre, and an imperfect album that finds perfection in its flaws.
The album is a continuation of the maturation of Del Rey’s songwriting and overall sound, as first seen with “Norman Fucking Rockwell” and continued in her 2021 albums, “Blue Bannisters” and “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.” Unlike her previous albums, however, “Ocean Blvd,” is her most personal album to date — so personal that simply listening to it feels intrusively intimate. The album departs from her signature worldbuilding, with many of the songs on the tracklist made by Del Rey singing whatever came to mind into her Voice Notes app and sending those to Drew Erickson, one of the producers of the album. This gives the album an emotionally raw feeling and fills it with imperfections that add to its mystique and make it truly moving.
“Ocean Blvd” roots itself in Americana and alternative pop, drawing on influences from gospel folk — that is best seen in the opening track “The Grants” — and trap — which is most prominently showcased in the second single of the album, “A&W.” Sonically, the album is most comparable to Del Rey’s latest works, with the trap influences signaling a return to a sound that hasn’t been touched by the songwriter in depth since her 2015 album “Lust for Life.”
The album is a 16-track set comprised of 14 songs and two interludes. Some listeners have found the first interlude, “Judah Smith Interlude,” unsettling, as it consists of a recording of Hollywood pastor Judah Smith giving a sermon, the only additional sound being occasional laughter and comments from Del Rey backed by light piano. This interlude helps drive home the religious and spiritual feeling of the album that is already garnered through the gospel influences found throughout its songs.
The album also features interpolations of Del Rey’s previous work throughout its tracks creating a kind of Lana musical mythology that is self-referential. “A&W” features an interpolation of the song “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” and “Taco Truck x VB” contains the original demo version of “Venice Bitch.”
Going with the theme of embracing imperfection, in the titular single “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” Lana can be heard taking a deep breath at the start of the track and at certain points, breaks in her voice can be heard. These quirks and so-called flaws can be heard throughout the album’s tracklist, which create this intimate and personal feel to the listening experience.
Even when diverging from her normal planned out songwriting process, Del Rey manages to set the bar and clear it with plenty of room. Composing some of the most beautifully emotionally expressive songs of her whole career — to the point where she has become her own reference — “Ocean Blvd,” abandons all notions of what a pop album should be and marks its own course in music, striking a balance between its personal vibe and its ability to strike at the emotional core of any listener. No amount of words can do the album the proper justice it deserves, so to end my attempt at capturing the majestic glory of “Ocean Blvd,” I will simply say this: Lana served down the house. Mother really mothered with this one.