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Saturday, June 22, 2024
The Observer

Lana Del Rey experiments with fleeting fame

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Image credits: Pitchfork, UPI
Image credits: Pitchfork and UPI


Leave it to Lana Del Rey to leave fans thinking about mortality and lasting legacy with her ninth studio album “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” (“Did You Know…”). Released on March 24, “Did You Know…” forces the listener to slow down and reflect on the lyrics, as the average track runs about five minutes long. The album experiments with a mix of folk and trap music, combining Del Rey’s classic sound with modern, techno styles.

Del Rey opens her exploration of what it means to be remembered with the album’s opening track “The Grants.” The song begins with the voices of Melodye Perry, Pattie Howard and Shikena Jones, each of whom had previously appeared in a documentary entitled “20 Feet from Stardom” that examined the lives of background vocalists. The song’s harmonized melodies and soft piano instrumentals evoke the gospel genre. With repeated references to John Denver’s 1972 “Rocky Mountain High,” Del Rey sings about creating a legacy for her family and how “when you leave, all you take / … is your memory.” These themes reappear in the album’s titular song: Del Rey asks friends “Don’t forget me” and compares the possibility of her own oblivion to that of the now-obscure Jergins Tunnel, a passage under Ocean Boulevard that once allowed pedestrians to safely travel from the beach to the city.

Of course, every Lana Del Rey fan is talking about “A&W.” Produced with Jack Antonoff, the song runs over seven minutes and is divided into two halves: the first is dominated by acoustic guitar and the second is inspired by early hip-hop music. “A&W,” an abbreviation for “American Whore,” begins by recounting the story of a woman who grows up to feel invisible and addicted to sex. Repeatedly calling attention to “the length [of my hair] and the shape of my body,” she affirms that “I’m invisible” in her relationships — a feeling that she attributes to the “experience of bein’ an American whore.” While the first half of “A&W” ponders her experience retroactively, the second half zooms in on a single night in a club. Del Rey repeatedly sings of how “Jimmy only loves me when he wanna get high,” and the listener can’t help but notice the subject of the song’s destructive relationship with herself.

While Del Rey seems to be singing about her own individual experiences, the album is truly a collaboration. Half of the album’s tracks feature other artists, including two interludes. The first — “Judah Smith Interlude” — is a recording of celebrity pastor Judah Smith’s sermon on love and lust. While the sermon highlights the question of whether the aspiration for fame derives from love or lust, the recording feels jarring and out of place with the rest of the album. Meanwhile, “Jon Batiste Interlude” feels like an extended, unnecessary outro to the preceding track “Candy Necklace (feat. Jon Batiste).” With so many featured artists already on the album, the interludes only seem to shift the spotlight away from Del Rey.

While the themes of “Did You Know…” are certainly interesting to consider, the execution just isn’t there. Del Rey’s distinct and ethereal voice is often drowned out by overpowering instrumentals, and the songs spend so much effort trying to make a statement that they lack the quality that might inspire someone to play a song on repeat. Lana Del Rey is an icon in the American music scene — and she shouldn’t worry about fleeting fame anytime soon — but this album was not her finest.

Album: “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd”

Artist: Lana Del Rey

Label: Interscope, Polydor Records

Favorite tracks: “Sweet,” “Margaret (feat. Bleachers)”

Shamrocks: 2 out of 5