Don’t Forget Lizzy Grant: Radio Fodder Reviews '...Ocean Blvd'

Radio Fodder Reviews Lana Del Rey's 'Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd' and its reflective breath of fresh air.


Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd was released on 24 March 2023 and weaves a rich sonic landscape across sixteen songs. Eight albums into her career, Lizzy Grant – better known as Lana del Rey – is a cultural icon as much as a pop singer. Her debut album Born to Die (2012) soared Lana del Rey into cultural consciousness. With it came debates about topics surrounding Lana’s ‘authenticity’; if she romanticised ‘problematic relationships’, to her use of old Hollywood aesthetics and whether her mythologisation of America was shallow. Her first four albums both wrestle with and feed into these frameworks; Lana continues to be absorbed into ‘aesthetics’ to this day, finding a place amongst images of coquettish fashion and cigarettes. Her fifth album, Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019), presents a turning point in the imagery attached to her music. Her next album, Chemtrails Over the Country Club (2021) was mostly subsumed into a broader palette of soft pop albums produced by Jack Antonoff and released during lockdowns, giving way to the far better Blue Banisters released in the same year.

In some ways, Ocean Blvd feels like Lana’s most subdued, least ‘cinematic’ work so far. It presents a sense of timelessness where previous works were grounded in the past or present, maintaining the sense of artistry that scaffold’s Lana’s projects. The cover features Lana del Rey posing with ribbons in her hair and head tilted, looking directly into the camera and at her audience; the image is filtered in black and white, including a list of collaborators, as if to remind us that this both is and isn’t ‘Lizzy Grant’. The music itself leans on sweeping, orchestral production alongside numerous interpolations and two interludes. The instruments are pronounced, and each song takes its time to settle with the album. As a whole, the album clocks in at an hour and seventeen minutes. Of course, Lana is no stranger to committing to an odyssey of a song—such as on the nine-minute long ‘Venice Bitch’—it’s still a breath of fresh air at a time when pop songs becoming increasingly shorter, for streaming and TikTok virality. 

Ocean Blvd explores a personal mythos for Lana, veering away from the persona she inhabited across her early albums. This album opens with a group of women singing acapella, taken from a supposed rehearsal recording. They’re singing the song’s refrain, “Mine, with you with me”, an introduction that soon fades into a soft pop piano ballad. ‘The Grants’ is named after Lana del Rey’s birth surname. Lana sings, “My pastor told me that when you leave all you take is your memories,” presenting the song as a promise to enshrine and commemorate the Grant women; it makes the choral harmonisation in the outro quite moving. Notably, ‘The Grants’ skips over motherhood; this seeps in on ‘A&W’, when Lana defiantly proclaims, “Your mum called, I told her, you’re fucking up big time”. The mother figure gets a namedrop on ‘Fingertips’: “Caroline, what kind of mother was she to say I'd end up in institutions?” Lana’s father and grandfather have their turn in ‘Grandfather, please stand on the shoulders of my father’, which offers a similar blend of confession and fabulism. ‘Margaret’ is similarly sentimental, opening with: “This is a simple song, gonna write it for a friend”. The song is allegedly about Jack Antonoff’s fiancée, positioning him as the friend in question, and Antonoff himself features on the song as part of the pop outfit Bleachers. 

The titular ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’ remains a highlight, released as a lead single in December 2022. Lana’s vocals shine clear over a luscious mix of strings and sounds from the ocean, her voice tinged with a mournfulness that recalls Ultraviolence (2014). She invokes the fabled tunnel under California’s Ocean Boulevard: “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Boulevard / Mosaic ceilings, painted tiles on the wall” before likening herself to the lost tunnel, with “I can’t help feeling somewhat like my body marred my soul / Handmade beauty, sealed up by two man-made walls”. The chorus is Lana’s request to her audience – her lover, her listeners – “Don’t forget me”, which later evolves into “Don’t forget me / like the tunnel under Ocean Boulevard”. Elsewhere in the song, she invokes Hotel California, the city of Camarillo, and Harry Nillson, all in a similarly anecdotal way. Like a conversation on the porch of a dying party. It’s a striking image: the Californian starlet asking whether we know about the tunnel under Ocean Boulevard and then turning around, pleading for the soul behind the body not to be forgotten.

Indeed, Ocean Blvd has a confessional lilt, even if the person doing that confession is constructed. On ‘A&W’, Lana del Rey reaches towards lost innocence, “I haven’t done a cartwheel in a long, long time” before bluntly and accurately tracing who she is now, “I’m a princess, I’m divisive”; “I’m invisible, I’m invisible, here’s my body, I’m available”. It all builds into an explosive second half, where “It’s not about having someone to love me anymore / Now this is the experience of being an American whore” tips into a trap interlude and a second half directed towards a character identified only as Jimmy who “only love me when he wanna get high”. ‘Fishtail’ is another highlight of the album, where Lana del Rey repeatedly accuses her audience, “You wanted me sadder,” over a slow trap beat. A statement that brings to mind the ‘sad girl’ iconography that Lana del Rey has come to represent. Later, by contrast, she reaches towards intimacy, “I wish I could skinny dip inside your mind,”. The song is filled with a tension of love and resentment that could easily catch up on a broad audience. ‘Sweet’ is a more straightforward love song that could find a place on Lust for Life (2017), with Lana del Rey crooning, “I’ve got things to do like nothing at all”. 

Ocean Blvd also incorporates a veritable collage of features and interpolations, with some working better than others. Lana del Rey samples pianists SYML and RIOPY on back-to-back tracks ‘Paris, Texas’ and ‘Grandfather…’ lending both songs some gorgeous melodies. ‘Paris, Texas’ is another personal favourite, the use of piano recalling some of Regina Spektor’s loveliest ballads. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Peppers’ is about a boyfriend who the singer listens to Chilli Peppers and kisses even though he had COVID; it’s a romp, featuring an interpolation of Tommy Genesis’s ‘Angelina’ on ‘Peppers’ which proves to be a veritable delight, demonstrating that trap-pop can be done successfully with the right vision. 

The male features are more mixed for me. A recorded sermon by Judah Smith serves as an interlude, soon followed by a track by Jon Batiste. Both enhance the reflective mood of the album, and present ideas of family and love from various angles, but on the whole, they feel jarring rather than effective or impactful. Jon Batiste’s backup vocals on ‘Candy Necklaces’ fare a little better, though his voice still doesn’t quite seem to mesh with Lana’s sweetness. The same criticism can be levelled at Jack Antonoff on ‘Margaret’, as nice as the song is in theory. The other direct feature is from Father John Misty on ‘Let the Light In’, which is nestled in a series of references: earlier on Ocean Blvd, ‘Kintsugi’ referenced both the Japanese artmaking technique and Leonhard Cohen’s “There’s a crack in everything / that’s how the light gets in”; ‘Let the Light In’ draws upon the same threads three songs later. Here, the way Lana del Rey’s and Father John Misty’s voices complement one another and harmonise alongside the instrumental suite is gorgeous, marking the uplifting track as a standout. 

The album ends on ‘Taco Truck x VB’ which interpolates Lana del Rey’s ‘Venice Bitch’ and arguably showcases Lana at her best. Or at least her most “Lana-core”. It once again showcases some of the singer’s more questionable lyricism. “Read my gold chain, says “Lanita” / When I’m violent it’s Carlita’s Way” is an interesting way to establish Lana as a girl-around-town, given that it’s hard to imagine her being violent unless within a carefully constructed serial killer persona. Like other lyrical moments that may or may not be ironic (If you want some basic bitch then go to the Beverly Centre” on ‘Sweet’; “I'm folk, I'm jazz, I'm blue, I'm green / Regrettably, also a white woman / But I have good intentions even if I'm one of the last ones” on ‘Grandfather…’) she pulls it off in a way that only she could. Lana del Rey’s lyricism works alongside her distinctive voice to make these songs truly hers. Then, about halfway through the track, Lana delivers “Signing off, bang bang, kiss kiss,” whilst trap elements kick in. This turn back to Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019) is unexpected yet effective, with the resulting back-and-forth of “If you weren’t mine, I’d be jealous of your love” and lines from ‘Venice Bitch’ striking a delicate balance of quirky and profound. In case we forgot, she seems to be reminding us again: “It’s me, your little Venice Bitch”. 

As a release, Ocean Blvd is solid whilst reaching some veritable highs. Even as Lana seems to step into the persona of herself, it’s clear that this album has been carefully collated. Ocean Blvd is hard to forget, slotting into the discographies of one of contemporary pop’s most defining and divisive artists. 


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