She’s done it again. Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd, released on March 24, is yet another near-perfect album from one of the most talented musical artists working today. The album seamlessly blends both piano ballads familiar to Del Rey’s recent output, Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021) and Blue Banisters (2021), with the trap-infused pop sound of her debut, Born to Die (2012). The album is receiving excellent reviews from critics and fans alike, boasting a score of 82 on Metacritic, a number equated with “universal acclaim”. Some fans have already taken to Twitter to express their hope for an Album of the Year Grammy win, an award for which Del Rey was nominated in 2020 but lost to Billie Eilish.
The album’s opening track, “The Grants,” serves as a thesis statement of sorts for Tunnel. Del Rey’s relationship with her family is an overarching motif throughout the album. On “The Grants,” Del Rey sings about wanting to take memories of her family (the titular Grants) with her into the afterlife, such as her “grandmother’s last smile” and “sister’s first-born child.” The song begins with two former Whitney Houston backup singers, Melodye Perry and Pattie Howard, slipping up while rehearsing the song. According to lyrical analysis website Genius, Del Rey included this specific segment of their recording in the song because of “the beauty in being flawed, and coming back flawlessly from an error.” The error in question, Genius states, may refer to Blue Banisters, an album that Del Rey refused to promote because she did not want anyone to listen to it. If Del Rey considers Tunnel to be a kind of comeback, then perhaps she is using the album’s genre-bending variety to remind her listeners of why they became fans in the first place and why they stayed.
A career highlight comes in the form of Tunnel’s fourth track, “A&W,” shorthand for “American Whore.” The song starts out as a dark piano ballad about Del Rey’s transformation from a troubled youth to sex fiend. The second half of the song switches to a more upbeat trap sound where Del Rey sings of a tumultuous relationship with a man named Jimmy, perhaps the same Jim she sings about on 2014’s “Ultraviolence.” “A&W” is the perfect example of how two very different styles of music—the “past and present” of Del Rey’s career—come together flawlessly on Tunnel. In this way, the song serves as a quintessential encapsulation of everything that makes Del Rey the virtuoso she has become.
Unfortunately, “A&W” transitions into the album’s weak spot, “Judah Smith Interlude.” The interlude features Christian megachurch pastor Judah Smith preaching about praying to God for love, not lust, accompanied by an eerie piano track and occasional giggles from Del Rey. The interlude is far from the first time religious motifs have appeared in Del Rey’s discography, which is not surprising considering she graduated from the Catholic Fordham University with a degree in philosophy. While the interlude does serve a thematic purpose, seeming to ironically extoll the evils of lust after the sexual “A&W,” it is simply too long, clocking in at four and a half minutes long. Many fans are also questioning Del Rey’s decision to platform a homophobic and anti-abortion pastor, regardless of her artistic intent.
The next three songs—“Kintsugi,” “Fingertips,” and “Paris, Texas”—are incredibly emotional piano ballads. “Kintsugi” describes how the pain of difficult times can bring about positive change and growth, as the term refers to the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold, silver, or platinum. “Fingertips” is a rumination on the events of Del Rey’s youth that shaped her into the person and artist she is today, while “Paris, Texas” is an ode to leaving home and carving out one’s own way in the world. After this trio, the album shifts to a more upbeat pop sound. “Let The Light In,” a love song duet with Father John Misty, is one of the album’s best and most underrated tracks. The warm, indie-pop sound has inspired comparisons between “Let The Light In” and “Tomorrow Never Came,” another Del Rey collaboration from Lust for Life (2017) that features Sean Ono Lennon. “Margaret,” a duet with Bleachers (a.k.a. Jack Antonoff, who also worked as a producer on the album), is a sweet ode to Antonoff’s fiancee, actress Margaret Qualley. Tunnel’s concluding trio, “Fishtail,” “Peppers,” and “Taco Truck x VB,” end the album with the trap-pop sound reminiscent of Del Rey’s musical beginnings. To emphasize the callback to Del Rey’s past, the “VB” in “Taco Truck x VB” refers to the song’s second half, a trap-inspired reimagination of her 2019 track “Venice Bitch.” The latter half of Tunnel in particular serves as a sampler of Del Rey’s talents, acting almost as a sort of “Greatest Hits” compilation. From the dark, moody crooning that launched her to superstardom, to the softer and lighter hidden gems from more recent work like Lust for Life, the concluding songs of Tunnel take listeners on a journey through the emotional peaks and valleys Del Rey has conquered throughout her career.
The titular second track, and the album’s lead single, is a plaintive ballad, the mood for which Lana became famous. “Open me up, tell me you like me,” “Love me until I love myself,” and “Don’t forget me,” Del Rey croons, perhaps more to her fans than to an imaginary lover. If the admiration of fans is what Del Rey seeks, then she has already succeeded, as her fanbase has only grown in size over the course of nine albums—and, if she keeps making music of this caliber, they will be here to stay.
Grace Copps is a freshman in the College (currently planning on) studying Government with a minor in Justice and Peace Studies.