The New Lana Del Rey Album

“Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd”:

This is a dorm room record.

I was hiking in the mountains listening to a podcast featuring my friend, the proprietor of, Jackson Hogen. We don’t agree on everything, but this was a good primer on equipment and ski areas. To buy your boots, at a specialty retailer, and take lessons and… You can check it out here:

That took me up, on the way down I checked out the playlist of the new “New York Times” music newsletter, “The Amplifier”: Wading through new music is like swimming in the Sargasso Sea, and with the “Times” imprimatur I decided to dive in. I was disappointed. First and foremost because the songs all seemed to be from the same viewpoint, adult alternative. And none were one listen smashes. Like I told you, I got the Giovannie and the Hired Guns track nearly instantly, and the first time I heard it was live. I mean the poor voices… Maybe if one listened to the “Amplifier” playlist a few times, the songs would start to reveal themselves, but who’s got that time?

And it is all about time. Radio used to pick the hits. And sure, a lot of genres were left out, but they never intentionally played stuff that was bad, completely unpalatable, their goal was to serve you up the best of what was available, and for a while that worked very well. But now radio has a fraction of its old reach, and therefore even when you hear a great song there’s no context, no one else seems to be talking about it, streaming television is more comprehensible, never mind being the subject of constant conversation.

Frustrated, I decided to jump off and…

What exactly was I going to play?

And then I remembered the reviews, in every major newspaper, of the new Lana Del Rey album, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.”

Not that the reviews could convince anyone they needed to listen to the album. The reviews were dry, quoting lyrics out of context, that didn’t add up, didn’t resonate.

But Lana Del Rey is inherently interesting, because even though she’s signed to Interscope, she seems to be playing in her own rarefied world, like the mainstream music business doesn’t exist.

So the first track is “The Grants.” Which is Lizzie/Lana’s real last name. Yes, Lana Del Rey is Lizzie Grant from Lake Placid, and even though they held the Olympics there, there’s nothing hip about the upstate New York burg. It’s kind of cognitive dissonance, this dish of a woman evidencing glamour coming from a backwater. Then again, Lana Del Rey’s whole image and career are confounding.

Let’s start with the appearance on SNL. Her public debut. To tell you the truth, I can’t even remember why it was so awful, so denigrated, but I do recall. And the funny thing is so does everybody else, including Lana herself. And ever since she’s been running away from it.

Let me state it another way. Major labels specialize in pushing the button. Using their connections to expose artists they believe they can sell tonnage on (stream tonnage on today!) Therefore, these acts don’t grow from the ground up, but the top down. The ascension is too slow the other way for the major labels. Sure, some people on the bottom may know an act, but you can’t reach mass unless you go mass. Unfortunately, for many artists, this is too soon, like it was with Lana Del Rey.

But she survived. Many acts don’t. One and done. But there was this song on Lana’s first album, “Summertime Sadness,” that penetrated the public consciousness, became an alternative hit, a fish out of water, that slowly built to the point of becoming a standard, and suddenly Lana Del Rey had a career. It had nothing to do with publicity or the machine, it had to do with the music. And Lana has pursued this path ever since.

Most acts today try to have a hit. Or don’t, and are so far from the mainstream most people have never heard of them. To be on a major label and not only play in your own universe, but triumph, that’s a paradigm rarely seen these days, if at all.

But Lana Del Rey lives there.

All of the tropes, the endless appearances in the mainstream media, the daily drops in social media, the endless live YouTube videos… Lana Del Rey doesn’t play that game. Or if she does, I’m unaware of it. I thought she didn’t do interviews for this album, but searching I found one in “Interview,” another in “Rolling Stone.” But, usually this stuff is so prevalent, so everywhere, that you can’t escape it, it becomes offensive. Then again, I saw the carpet bomb reviews in all the papers somewhat offensive, the work of the starmaking machinery right in front of my very eyes, even more refined, but less effective than in Joni Mitchell’s day.

So the opening track, “The Grants”… I understood it, but I didn’t need to hear it again, I wasn’t hooked.

And then came the title track, “Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd.” All the reviews write about a literal tunnel in Long Beach, but I didn’t think of any of that when I listened to the song. It was dreamy, with a hook employing the title. My mood changed. It wasn’t conscious, but suddenly I was relaxed, and then my mind started to drift. This is the experience I’m looking for, most people are looking for. Sure, the mindless stuff serves a purpose, but that doesn’t stick with you.

And I’m wondering who has the time to listen to all this new music, and I start thinking about being in college, and that’s when it hit me. This is the kind of music you play in the afternoon alone in your dorm room. During intimate conversations with your friends. It’s meaningful, mood-setting, without being too heavy. Furthermore, it’s not really background, you can never really tune it out.

Now they say that women catch the lyrics earlier than men. But listening to “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” not only were the lyrics secondary to me, they didn’t seem to be the essence, a necessary component of the album like all the reviews said, the textures and sounds, the vocalizations stood on their own, the lyrics were the cherry on top. I mean read the reviews and you don’t want to listen to the record, it sounds intellectual as opposed to soothing, for the bookish, but not everybody, there are tons of albums like this, with interesting lyrics, but as music they don’t hold up.

And the album continues to play out and the mood continues. It’s not that the songs sound identical, it’s just that there is a mood created. Nothing jarring, not a cornucopia of tracks made to appeal to everybody, including a song that might get radio play.

I’m listening and I hear nothing that I’d expect to hear on the radio. Maybe on the Spectrum or some other SiriusXM station, but nothing that would appear in the Spotify Top 50, that’s not the goal.

And unlike the on paper admirable but uneasy listen of Fiona Apple’s latest album, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” “Did you know there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is extremely listenable, you want to play it, hear it, know it.

But it does contain an hour and seventeen minutes of music. Meaning it can’t be digested easily, and to comprehend it you have to dedicate a good chunk of time, which will prevent you from listening to something else. But there’s no filler, only adventure, mental adventure.

I mean there’s Zach Bryan, with a plethora of material, and Morgan Wallen. These new acts take up so much personal mindshare, but if you go to their gigs the audience knows every word, there’s a rabidity much more intense than there is for the Spotify Top 50, although Wallen cuts can appear there. This is not BTS, other acts with angry mobs of devotees who will annihilate you if you say anything negative. The connection is not cultural, it’s musical. The music stands on its own. All you have to do is jump in.

And like I said, this is radically different from what is purveyed, emphasized by the usual suspects.

And I wouldn’t expect any mainstream legs on “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” I don’t expect more news stories, hit singles, the album has dropped and it will be supported and spread by its audience, media will not be the key, the album will be alive in the culture but if you’re not clued-in you won’t get it. But you’ll be somewhere and hear the music and ask yourself, what is this? Because it’s not in-your-face like so much of today’s mainstream music, it’s not playing to the last row, but only the first few, it’s not trying to convince you, it just is. And that’s enough, more than enough.

And unlike the aforementioned Fiona Apple, who took eight years between her last two albums, not only did Lana Del Rey put out an album in 2019, but two in 2021. Most acts polish one album, bring in outside writers to insure acceptance, and then promote it and tour it for years, whereas Lizzie Grant just keeps making them. For herself. And her audience. If you’re not a member of the club, that’s cool.

How did she get here?

Well, she might have grown up in Lake Placid, but she went to Kent, a prep school in northwestern Connecticut. And one thing I can tell you about the prep school graduates…they’re extremely well-read, I felt inadequate when they started to speak at Middlebury.

And Lizzie actually graduated from college, Fordham. What a concept! In a world where the younger you are the more marketable you are. Where being uneducated is a badge of honor. Where forgoing college is de rigueur because you don’t want to waste all that time when you could be working on your career, you might miss your time. You learn something in college, not only in class, but outside, you meet people from different backgrounds, you have new experiences, your vision is broadened. Lana Del Rey is 37 and at the top of her game, and even most of the classic rock acts were creatively dead at that age.

So start with the second cut, the title track. And let a few cuts play. You’ll be drawn in.

And don’t listen as a test, listen like you did to a new album in the old days, when you broke the shrinkwrap and gave it a chance to penetrate.

Women making this kind of music are supposed to be dark and alienated, physically as well as mentally. Joni Mitchell was beautiful, but she was a hippie chick. With her long hair. Whereas Lana Del Rey is much closer to a model.

Oh, don’t criticize my perspective. I’m being honest. Speaking words people think but you cannot say. It’s great that Lana Del Rey is physically attractive, it’s just that we expect women blessed with good looks to trade on them, and that’s not a component of Lana Del Rey’s art or success. Also meaning that Lana/Lizzie is operating in uncharted territory. Everything seems to be retro these days, painting by the numbers established by the acts of yore. But “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” doesn’t sound exactly like anything else, like all those albums we listened to in our dorm rooms back in the seventies. It starts out background but becomes more foreground as you listen to it, as it seeps in, as you become intrigued and want to go deeper.

This is an achievement. I’m telling you now. I haven’t even truly penetrated the lyrics. But I want to play “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd,” I want to go deeper, and shouldn’t that be the way it is?

Comments are closed