Lana Del Rey’s Albums, Ranked
“Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” Lana Del Rey’s just-released eighth studio album, is a captivating addition to one of music’s most iconic discographies. And, like the seven records that came before it, it’s a beautiful, occasionally confounding mystery that promises to unfurl slowly over the next couple of years.
So, how do you decipher a body of work as multi-layered and mercurial as Del Rey’s — let alone rank it? The short answer is: with great difficulty and a boulder-sized grain of salt.
With a catalog as consistently great as Del Rey’s, it’s not so much about picking the best album. Rather, the goal is measuring ambition, impact on pop culture and influence on peers. As such, the freshly minted “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” is at a distinct disadvantage. Time will tell if it spawns a whole generation of clones a la 2012’s “Born to Die” or feels as integral to the musical landscape as 2019’s “Norman Fucking Rockwell.”
In the meantime, here’s Variety‘s best attempt at ranking Del Rey’s studio albums, excluding pre-fame releases such as the semi-official “Lana Del Ray aka Lizzy Grant” and extended plays like 2012’s “Paradise.”
Lust for Life (Highlight: ‘Heroin’)
In theory, putting Lana Del Rey in the studio with the who’s who of producers sounds like a brilliant idea. And, to a certain extent, it was. The songs she cooked up with Max Martin, Benny Blanco, Boi-1da, and Metro Boomin are occasionally very good (“Love”), but “Lust for Life” remains the only Del Rey album that doesn’t feel like a fully realized vision. Her A-List collaborators take things in one direction, while the songs she recorded with regular cohorts (Emile Haynie and Rick Nowels) go in another. The latter, at least for me, is vastly more appealing. “Cherry,” “Heroin” and “White Mustang” feel quintessentially Del Rey, while a song like “Summer Bummer” does not. All in all, the good still outweighs the not-great by quite some margin. And her collaboration with Stevie Nicks, “Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems,” shines bright as a torch-passing milestone.
Ultraviolence (Highlight: ‘Shades of Cool’)
After the slow-burn success of “Born To Die,” Del Rey was positioned to be the crossover alt-pop queen of the 2010s. But instead of diving deeper into the emo-balladry and hip-hop-laced bops of her debut, she turned to the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach for a down-and-dirty rock album that simmers with dread, discontent and rage. If “Born to Die” was forged from California dreams, “Ultraviolence” was conjured by L.A. nightmares. Songs like the hissing “West Coast” and jazzy “Shades of Cool” rank among her best, while “Pretty When You Cry” and, appropriately enough, “Sad Girl” are seminal emo-anthems. But the project also hinted at the twists and turns to come with a stunning Nina Simone cover, the confronting “Fucked My Way Up to the Top,” and frankly unhinged “Brooklyn Baby.” It might not as be as impactful as her debut or finely calibrated as “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” but for sheer audacity and emotional sway, it’s hard to beat.
Honeymoon (Highlight: ‘The Blackest Day’)
Excuse the pun, but “Honeymoon” is an absolute trip. A sprawling tone poem that leisurely segues from Morricone-like orchestral flourishes to pouty trip-hop, Del Rey’s third album is her most ambitious and eccentric offering to date. The fact that a recitation of T.S. Elliot’s “Burnt Norton” somehow found its way onto an album that includes a bluesy Bowie interpolation (“Terrence Loves You”) and an accordion-driven ode to “The Godfather” (“Salvatore”) is equal parts insane and inspired. A modicum of patience is needed to get the full “Honeymoon” experience; it’s the kind of album that washes over you in its own time, but once you submit to its languid rhythms, the journey is unforgettable.
Norman Fucking Rockwell (Highlight: ‘Venice Bitch’)
The beginning of Del Rey’s now long-standing collaborative relationship with Jack Antonoff, “Norman Fucking Rockwell” ranks as one of the greatest albums of the 2010s. And this isn’t a case where a producer leads the way. Antonoff, rather, dives into her world of faded psychedelia and sun-dappled West Coast revelry, bringing out the artist’s best impulses — which includes leaning into her influences. On “Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Del Rey pays homage to Laurel Canyon, the near-mythic sanctuary for counterculture artists in the ’60s, directly referencing Joni Mitchell and the Eagles, while paying her respects to the whole movement with an album that feels as unselfconscious and disinterested in trends as the music of her idols. Oh, and the guitar solo in “Venice Bitch” was the single most interesting pop culture moment of 2019.
Born to Die (Highlight: ‘Video Games’)
There’s a tendency, among critics and Del Rey’s own fan base, to dismiss “Born to Die” as being a little too slick and commercial. And yet, more than a decade on, the album keeps selling and the small army of Sad Girl artists it spawned grows ever bigger. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. A couple of tracks (“Off to the Races” and “Diet Mountain Dew,” for example) now feel out of place in Del Rey’s wider discography, but the vast majority of “Born to Die” hasn’t lost its luster, particularly the gloomier moments such as “Video Games,” “Blue Jeans” and the still-startling title track. And then there’s “Summertime Sadness,” which to the chagrin of some LDR gatekeepers, has become a modern-day standard that will live on forever in TikToks. For the record, “Born to Die: The Paradise Edition,” which incorporates the “Paradise” EP, would rank even higher in the countdown.
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd (Highlight: ‘Kintsugi’)
Ranking a brand-spanking new album above the tried and true offerings listed above feels a little reckless, but, even after a couple of listens, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd” feels special. While the record takes a similar scrapbook approach as “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” and “Blue Banisters,” LDR8 takes it to the next level with a 4:36-minute message from her preacher, songs about late relatives, ruminations on life without kids, and the no-holds-barred therapy session that is “A&W.” Sprinkled in between those journal entries are some of the loveliest moments in Del Rey’s discography (“Kintsugi,” the haunting title track and her collaborations with Bleachers and Father John Misty) and some mind-melting experiments (“Peppers” and “Taco Truck x VB”) that evoke the mad-scientist mayhem of “Honeymoon.”
Blue Banisters (Highlight: ‘Dealer’)
“Blue Banisters” arrived at a difficult time for Del Rey. The groundswell of goodwill that accompanied “Norman Fucking Rockwell” evaporated during the “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” era with the singer-songwriter being criticized for everything from her brand of feminism to her choice of face masks. Tired of responding via social media, Del Rey reclaimed her narrative on an album that doubles as a sort of autobiography — touching on relationships, family and art. There are songs mired in COVID-era imagery (she memorably sings about quarantine, zooms and lockdown weight gain on “Black Bathing Suit”), a handful of resurrected demos recorded with an old boyfriend (“If You Lie Down With Me” and “Nectar of the Gods”), an ode to Los Angeles (“Arcadia”) and a song co-written with her sister and father (“Sweet Carolina”). As I wrote in my review, Del Rey “has always been an expert world-builder, but never has one of them felt as lived-in and true.”
Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Highlight: ‘White Dress’)
If Lizzy Grant had been slowly shedding the glamorous trappings of her alter-ego since “Born to Die,” she finally achieved her mission on “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.” Stripped-back and minimal, the first of two 2021 albums finds Del Rey dabbling in folk and Americana as she spins tales of love and heartbreak over a plucked guitar, wonky organ and rattling piano keys on gems like “Let Me Love You like a Woman” and “Tulsa Jesus Freak.” As lovely as it is, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” occasionally feels a little too light – free of the lyrical heft and often dizzying experimentation of previous albums. That being said, few records are as perfectly suited for long road trips with nothing on the horizon but miles of highway.
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