Lana Del Rey has always espoused a commitment to doing whatever she damn well wants. If anything, the pandemic has simply accelerated this. Left alone to create, that’s exactly what she’s done – four albums in four years, beginning with 2019’s magnum opus ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’ and continuing through whispered strands of intense pop minimalism. At times experimental, at others re-asserting her core values, Lana has used this cycle to evolve, and change.
From its title down, for example, ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’ is wordy, verbose; indeed, it shares some parallels with her poetry book (and album) Violet Bent Over Backwards. Structurally, it’s a lengthy, unwieldy document – it almost feels like two separate albums layered over one another. One, a song-rooted venture laden with country-inflections. The other, shot through with buzzing electronics and unsettling effects. Ricocheting between these poles, Lana Del Rey produces an album that swaps unity for impact, a surfeit of information that lacks clarity, but intensifies its emotional pull.
Opening with the church-like simplicity of ‘The Grants’, Lana’s voice takes on a gospel hue. “Do you think about heaven,” she wonders; from the off, truth feels a concept far in the distance, haloed by buzzing neon. The title song itself begins with a slow exhalation, the sound of someone exhausted, burning themselves out with the yearn to communicate.
At times raw and explicit, ‘Did you know…’ also has room for the melodic succinctness of ‘Sweet’, with its piano and voice evocation of a Disney theme from the 50s. Pure and dulcet, it leads into grandiose centrepiece ‘A + W’, a work of stunning complexity that ranks with Lana’s finest work. The unsettling heart of the record, it carries the feeling of trauma and disassociation. One-part electronic epic and one-part playground chant, it’s ruthlessly effective.
Yet this isn’t a work of reinvention. ‘Candy Necklace’ meanders through some familiar Lana themes, depicting Gatsby esque visions of high society. The perfectly sweet ‘Kintsugi’ lifts from the Leonard Cohen songbook, with its exhortation of “that’s how the light gets in”. Indeed, some of the record’s more focussed aspects are actually its weakest – the Bleachers collaboration ‘Margaret’ is forgettable, for example. A much stronger duet can be found on ‘Let The Light In’, its brooding country landscapes augmented by a cameo from Father John Misty, an apt foil for Lana’s voice amid this swirling salute to the Bakersfield Sound.
Framed by twin poles of classicism and experimentation, ‘Did you know…’ never truly succumbs to either. An often-unsettling river of song, it finds Lana Del Rey discussing uncomfortable truths, while denying the use of easy answers. What she chooses to reveal is profound, occasionally disquieting, and never dull.
Words: Robin Murray
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