We’ve been excited to write this for quite some time. After almost two years of teased release dates for Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry, we weren’t sure when, if ever, we would see the follow-up to Channel Orange. But alas, it finally came, and despite being thrown by several false release dates, the world has embraced Blonde/Blond, the product of Ocean’s silence and meticulous work. Though several of the songs are now 2-3 years old and have been performed in other venues, we finally have them all together in coherent and beautiful form. Here is our review of Frank Ocean’s Blonde.
The first track, “Nikes“, dropped one day before the rest of the record with a stunning music video. And if anyone can deliver beautiful lyrics through a highly distorted voice and still be compelling, it’s Frank Ocean. “Nikes” also shows us that Ocean hasn’t lost his knack for crafting important pop music, songs that are about much more than they appear, swimming within the confines of a pop song but still managing to surprise us minute to minute.
“Ivy” feels like a love letter. A pure moment of honesty and reflection. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me” isn’t even the most provocative lyric on this track. The song is simple in terms of melody and progression, but Frank Ocean’s voice is strong and unleashes beautifully. We don’t need consecutively over-produced songs, we want to hear what he has to say.
Those of you craving Channel Orange echoes likely found relief in “Pink + White”, which to us is reminiscent of “Crack Rock” and “Sweet Life”. It has a healthy beat driven by Ocean’s illustrious piano and when we’re not too busy nodding along there are some pretty deep reflections on life, death, and the craving for immortality. Yes, again Ocean shows us that there is much to be found below the surface of a catchy song.
And just when we thought we didn’t need to hear Frank’s mom warn us of the dangers of drug use, “Be Yourself” begins. Our favorite moment from this wonderful mother: “When people become weed-heads they become sluggish, lazy, stupid and unconcerned!”
“Solo” feels like a Sunday. We’re brought back to church. The organ is nostalgic and minimal, while Ocean croons about love, late nights, fighting, making mistakes, and hurting people from your own sources of pain. Frank is a master when it comes to creating a sad song that appears happy, or uplifting even. And when he says “Inhale, In Hell there’s Heaven”, we almost forget about the emotional rollercoaster he just took us on.
Blond may seem unhurried, but if you listen closely, there are several moments where the music somersaults and feels urgent. “Skyline To” does exactly this. The melody is gorgeous and dictates a landscape so incredibly alluring. The abrupt nature of Ocean’s delivery pairs perfectly with the sweeping motion of the music, his words coming off as truly necessary and insistent. By the end of it, we can’t help but feel closer to him.
On “Self Control”, we see a tactic Ocean repeats throughout Blond, which is pairing highly produced vocals with a simple backbeat and melody. “Self Control” is characterized by the downtempo guitar, the beautiful string section, and eventually the anthem-style vocals. The honesty, the simplicity! It’s just everything we could have wanted or thought to ask from Frank Ocean’s long awaited debut.
“Good Guy” is short, a lo-fi piano sketch. The first part details a blind date at a gay bar, Ocean’s voice giving us plenty of emotion in just under 45 seconds. Then, the track cuts to two men talking about getting their hearts “wrecked” by women in a tone which opposes the first half. Ocean’s two portraits of masculinity are reoccurring themes throughout his work, and here, it’s masterfully done with so few words.
“Nights” is composed of two parts, the latter feeling like the truth behind an otherwise typical rap song. The first part of the song echoes a struggle we’re familiar with, of losing your job, wanting more in life, etc. But the second half is pure poetry, sadness and frustration realized and articulated in way we haven’t seen or read before.
Andre 3000’s appearance on “Solo (Reprise)” is pure fire. It’s a reminder that he’s there and still one of the best rappers alive. And we’re pretty much in awe. Ocean granted him the dig he needed to make towards modern rappers, making the track all the more special for its realness: ‘I’m so naive I was under the impression that everyone wrote they own verses / It’s comin’ back different and yea that shit hurts me / I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving/ I’m stumbled and lived every word, was I working just way too hard?’ No words. He said them all.
This moment, titled “Pretty Sweet”, is perhaps the most bewildering. Ocean throws us, in media res-style, for a truly chaotic interlude. He salvages us with a choral section and an increasingly fast beat, winding out the interlude in what feels like a premature finish.
His next, seemingly random interlude “Facebook Story” is actually quite profound, a direct commentary on the digital age/social media and it’s affect on personal relationships. How a person ended a relationship because of an unaccepted Facebook friend request, even though the love is tangible, it exists, in the real world. If Frank Ocean hasn’t already pinpricked your heart on Blond, now would be the time.
Did anyone else freak out over this line cover of “Close to You” by The Carpenters? This isn’t the first track where he veers on the side of overproduction, but if anyone can mimic the strange style of Bon Iver while maintaining sincerity, it’s Frank Ocean.
The cadence of this album is slower, it allows time for rumination, and simmers its message to the surface rather than coming to a full on boil. But if you haven’t gotten on board with it, “White Ferrari” may be another moment where you’re generally underwhelmed. Personally, I think it’s reductive to expect an album to climax. Ocean is merely painting a portrait and is working from a very specific palette. One of our favorite lyrics on Blond takes place at the end of the song: “You dream of walls that hold us in prison/ It’s just a skull, least that’s what they call it/ And we’re free to roam”.
Those waiting for a big moment on Blond may have found it on “Seigfried”, a track which has been in Ocean’s arsenal for at least three years, as there are videos of him performing it back in 2013. Halfway through, Ocean makes big sweeping strokes with a beautiful string section, which he uses to usher in a muted rap verse. And the effect is chilling. He delivers as if addressing the country, the general public, but the lyrics are deeply personal. In Ocean’s words, “a fond farewell to a friend”. But even if his words are for someone in particular, the consequences are universal.
“Godspeed” calls back to the gospel vibes we felt early on in the record. It’s a beautiful ode to the fact that love, even if not reciprocated, can still exist in our memories, in our art, and is generally all around us. “This love will keep us through blinding of the eyes/ Silence of the years, darkness of the mind”.
Though a little disorienting, “Futura Free”, the last song on the record, allows Frank Ocean some free form honesty. His stream of conscious style confessions come out in spurts, some more serious than others. He discusses violence towards artists such as Tupac and Selena, his early moments of fame such as getting e-mails from Jay-Z, and Tyler, the Creator sleeping on his couch. The song, broken up by silence, winds out with voice snippets pieced together to form an outro interview, where we can sometimes catch Tyler’s voice, but otherwise is pretty indecipherable (you can read the full interview here).
At first listen, Blond isn’t the show-stopping record many expected Frank Ocean to deliver after so much teasing, after such a long wait. But in our opinion, Blond is clear evidence that Ocean has not only grown as a songwriter, but no longer has to rely on complicated narratives or motifs to show the world who he is and how he sees the world. By largely drawing from memory, experience, and a beautiful willingness to tell, Frank Ocean gives us a deeply personal portrait of what it’s like to be alive right now, to love, and so much more.
We’re looking forward to Frank Ocean releasing more music this year. Do you think Frank Ocean will tour in 2016? Let us know in the comments below!