In celebration of the release of ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’, we’re ranking the best Lana Del Rey albums, from Born to Die and beyond.
She’s Lana Del Rey to the masses – the brooding, mysterious and highly influential singer songwriter who captivated the world with her velvet vocals and vintage glamour all the way back in 2011. Lizzy Grant, to her stans. Let’s face it – you’ll be hard pressed to see much of anything else on the corners of the internet occupied by the Sad Girl inclined when a Lana Del Rey album’s cycle begins.
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Though Del Rey’s musical career has incited heated debates over her authenticity, political stances, aesthetic presentation and more, her past few album cycles have seen Lana achieve critical acclaim of the highest degree.
However you feel about the Lana Del Rey persona that that exists in the public consciousness, its undeniable that the singer is now widely considered to be one of, if not the, best songwriter of her generation, as opposed to a bee-stung-lipped ingenue who fumbled that one SNL live performance, or posed misguided questions… to the culture.
In celebration of the release of her brand new LP, ‘Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd’, we’re going to be ranking the very best cuts from Lana’s decade-long discography. Not definitively, of course. This is just one, rather invested writer’s, humble little opinion. Lana 4 ever!
5. Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd
Despite the fact that this album is entering the race with the sheer disadvantage of its newness – I’m calling it now – this is going to be a bonafide Lana classic. Although the LP as a whole is a bit perplexing, inducing a couple of skips when listened to front to back (those interludes from the pews were simply not it) the best songs on this album are some of Lana’s best to date, blending Norman Fucking Rockwell’s refinement with the thrillingly camp quotable Lana lyrics the girlies love and need. The production on sophomore single “A&W” boasts elite, experimental production, sultry, butter-soft vocals and an outro that – quite frankly – goes hard af, and the cinematic swells of the title track, punctuated by the genius Lana-ism “fuck me to death/fuck me until I love myself” sum up all that there is to love about this album. Other highlights include the delicate and ambient piano ditty “Paris Texas”, which sees Lana singing in her dazzling “White Dress” reminiscent falsetto we don’t hear all too often.
4. Born to Die
Of all of the Lana Del Rey albums, the singer’s first commercially released LP is often dismissed by critics and fans alike for its industry manufactured, glossy, high-artifice. However, while the album’s production is undoubtedly less subtle and refined than Del Rey’s subsequent outings, it features some rock-solid songwriting alongside its more contrived tracks, and its influence on the decade of crooning Sad Girl pop artists that arrived in its wake is immeasurable. While “Off to the Races” and “Diet Mountain Dew” and “Radio” come across almost as lyrical parodies of the Del Rey persona in the present day, the better part of the “Born to Die” track list is as soul-stirring upon re-listen as it was a decade prior – from the deceptively simple four chord swell of “Video Games” to the melancholic trip hop-orchestral fusion of the LP’s title track. Although stunning in its own right, “Summertime Sadness,” also deserves a mention for its sheer cultural ubiquity post club-banger remix.
3. Blue Bannisters
Blue Bannisters arrived at a time in which Ms Del Rey’s public reputation had all but plummeted. The critical acclaim and widespread reverence the singer accrued throughout the Norman Fucking Rockwell press cycle was soon completely overwhelmed the controversies upon controversies that surrounded the release of Chemtrails Over the Country Club… a certain sheer beaded face mask and question for the *cough* culture, come to mind. Thankfully, Lana cut it with the the outrage-inducing social media clap backs and instead presented the world with one of her most honest and compelling works to date – a sprawling body of ethereal, diaristic balladry. Though Lana has always been a deft creator of dirty, surrealist Americana narrative landscapes, never before has she delved into territory so that feels so palpably real. Sparse, chamber reverbed arrangements see Lana reflect on pandemic era malaise – zoom calls and isolation; on her relationship to her body and femininity, as well as on the soothing salve that family love provides. If Lana was ever going to win the masses back, it wasn’t with poorly crafted quote tweets, it was with the very best songs she could possibly write.
The follow up to Lana’s trap and trip hop laden debut saw the singer take a vastly different sonic approach, teaming up with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach to produce a scuzzy and mesmeric 70s rock-inspired album. While “Born to Die” is preoccupied with the barbed glamour and glory of Hollywood opulence, Ultraviolence goes deeper and darker, populated by the shady and predatory characters of Lana’s sick and twisted vision of LA.
The sizzling “West Coast” and ethereal “Shades of Cool” see Lana operating at her breathtaking vocal peak, and the vibe-shift inducing frankness of “Fucked My Way Up to the Top” and “Ultraviolence” cemented Lana as the unhinged-sad girl icon of the Tumblr generation. Although not quite as sophisticated as NFR, nor as slickly packaged as her debut, there’s an inexplicably raw magic to “Ultraviolence” that makes it damn hard to compete with.
1. Norman Fucking Rockwell
This album was the first body of work Del Rey produced in collaboration with one of the most ubiquitous, high profile pop producers working today – Jack Antonoff.
“Norman Fucking Rockwell” marks an undeniable shift in Lana’s discography, and particularly, in her public perception; undeniably one of the best records of the 2010s, these tracks garnered the songstress a level of critical claim that her previous releases weren’t granted.
Although he’s been accused of imparting a heavy handed-sonic influence when working with artists, on this LP Antonoff leans into Lana’s sun streaked, melancholic Americana impulses, embellishing the balladry with sophisticated acoustic instrumentation and paying homage to Laurel Canyon’s golden era of folk.
NFR is a singular work – a bold and heart-wrenching statement from an artist at their peak. It’s sonic sophistication is also matched by a lyrical maturity we’d not yet seen from Lana at the time of its release. Thematically, it sees Del Rey self-referentially revisit the red-blooded Americana imagery that informed so much of her earlier work with a critical lilt – released in the throes of societal collapse, of intense political tumult, the lyrics “LA is in flames, it’s getting hot/Kanye West is blond and gone/ “Life on Mars?” Aint just a song” seem to speak directly to a doe-eyed past self posed triumphantly before a sepia swept, star spangled banner.
Lana Del Rey’s new album Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd is available to stream now.