Lana Del Rey’s ‘Ocean Blvd’ is a storytelling scrapbook

Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey. Photo courtesy of Spotify

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

Lana Del Rey’s ninth studio album, “Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd” is as much of a mouthful as it is an exploration of family ties, grief, depression, love and more. Characterized by a soft, soulful piano and interludes of a sermon, the album is like flipping through an old scrapbook; chock full of old photos and memories waiting to be dusted off.

“Ocean Blvd” opens with “The Grants,” an homage to Lana’s family. Born Elizabeth Grant, the singer looks back on the memories that defined her growing up and continue to shape her life and history. While the song is beautiful and melodic on its own, the lyrics are really what make it.

“My pastor told me,” Lana sings, “‘When you leave, all you take is your memories,’ and I’m going to take mine of you with me.”

She makes further references to her sister’s first child and the passing of her grandmother. Underscoring the thoughtfulness of the lyrics are the gospel-reminiscent backing vocals. The recollection of her pastor, the references of heaven and passing on, are the rafters, columns and pews in this high-ceilinged cathedral of a song. It’s one of Lana’s best and a far, far cry from her past albums.

One thing that must strike the listener is the contrast between songs like “Fingertips” and the album as a whole, compared to past albums like “Born to Die” and “Ultraviolence.” Lana has been criticized in the past for romanticizing things like domestic violence and age gap relationships. That might have been a valid criticism in the past, for lyrics like “he hit me and it felt like a kiss” and several references to the book “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov.

But, nobody could say that about “Ocean Blvd.” This album is one in a string of a new era of Lana Del Rey. Lyrically, she’s moved past the cigarette-smoking, Santa Monica Pier, sugar baby, pin-up dream world she once lived in.

With “Judah Smith Interlude,” the album takes a break from Lana’s whispery and deep vocals to send a message about how to live correctly. Well, what pastor Judah Smith, recently sued for allegedly forcing the staff of Churchome, a Seattle-area church, to donate, thinks is the right way to live. The interlude has become controversial amongst fans, with some hoping it’s satirical, and others just deeming it creepy and intense.

One thing is for certain — it’s not the sort of track you’d put on to walk to class, to study or to drive home. It’s purely there for storytelling and message-creating value. It adds to the religious worldview of the album, which is one of living life for the things that make it worthwhile, not just the things that are fun or pleasurable.

“Let The Light In (feat. Father John Misty)” is another one of those almost moral songs. It’s all about letting your guard down and enjoying life for what it is. No pressure, just the things that are meaningful. Father John Misty makes any song better as one of those indie icons that only come around every once in a while.

Overall, “Ocean Blvd” justifies its hour and 17-minute run time. You might shave some minutes off by skipping the two interludes, but I don’t think a single song hasn’t earned its place on the album.