The man, the myth, the legend; Frank Ocean has finally blessed us with his sophomore album. After four excrusiatingly long years, the R&B wunderkind is back after seemingly disappearing from the world; only existing in rare photos and in his Tumblr account. After last July’ epic failure (Frank hinted at the release of his long-awaited album in that month), fans were afraid that it would join Detox and Jay Electronica’s “upcoming” record among the Holy Grail of albums that are never coming out. However, over the weekend Ocean dropped a visual album filled with new music, with the actual release the next day. The latter, titled Blonde, is an airy, expansive record that totally makes it worth the wait.
Whereas Ocean’s last album, 2012’s incredible channel ORANGE, was lyrically all over the place, this record tends to stay in just a few lanes. One of those lanes is classic Frank Ocean; the yearning for something lost. 2nd track “Ivy” describes a failed relationship, his first love in fact, which was famously another man. “I thought I was dreaming/When you said you loved me… I had no chance to prepare/I couldn’t see you coming.” The track’s whimsical production reeks of nostalgia, something that Ocean is extremely proficient at evoking out of his music. “Skyline To” has Ocean once again looking back at a past relationship; the setting being in one of his seemingly many cars overlooking the sunrise à la Nostalgia ULTRA. “Solstice ain’t as far as it used to be/It begins to blur, we get older (Blur!)/Summer ain’t as long as it used to be,” he croons. The track, produced by Odd Future cohort Tyler, The Creator, also carries heavy nostalgic vibes, almost sounding like we’re in Ocean’s thought bubble as he remembers the past.
“Self Control” though not as anthemic as ORANGE‘s “Pyramids,” is perhaps the album’s centerpiece. Centering around a relationship that wasn’t meant to be, Ocean still yearns for his lover’s company, even when the latter is with another person (Keep a place for me, for me/I’ll sleep between y’all, it’s nothing”). Austin Feinstein of Slow Hollows and, surprisingly, cloud rap afficianado Yung Lean lend their pipes for the chorus, but the outro is what steals the show. Ocean layers his voice and belts out a stuttering plea for just one night together before his lover leaves his life for good. “Give up, just tonight, night, night… I, I, I/Know you gotta leave, leave,leave.” The track perfectly encapsulates what makes Frank Ocean one of today’s most powerful emoters; his somewhat off-kilter lyrics combined with his naturally compelling voice is a potent combination.
Sonically the album holds remnants of Ocean’s Odd Future days. The album is wrought with the group’s signature eerie synths and just the right amount of left-field production. However, the record also holds electronica styles as well as classic pop appeal. “Pink + White” contains a piano backdrop while “Nights” has skittering robotic clangs throughout. While album may lack the the big hooks and catchy melodies that ORANGE possessed, Ocean more than makes up for it in songwriting and production, even if the LP lacks any obvious hit songs like Thinkin Bout You. Even with all the noise that surrounds the album, Ocean’s vocals are always the firm constant through it all.
The album’s skits/interludes provide breaks from the album, and have Ocean/others talking about everything from social media to gay bars. “Be Yourself” could be a continuation of last album’s “Not Just Money,” where Ocean’s childhood friend’s mom tells him to say no to drugs and alcohol (ironically, the next song’s first line has Ocean “gone off tabs of that acid”). “Facebook Story” is a metaphor for how the digital age has invaded relationships, as French producer SebastiAn mulls over the time his significant other broke up with him after he wouldn’t accept her Facebook request. “It was virtual, means no sense/So I say “I’m in front of you, I don’t need to accept you on Facebook.” “Good Guy” has Ocean on a date with another man, and also highlights how hard it can be to come out as homosexual. These skits once again paint Ocean as a man who knows exactly how to get his point across.
“I’m just a guy I’m not a god” Ocean casually lulls on album closer “Futura Free.” “Sometimes I feel like I’m a god but I’m not a god.” While the music world have placed a sort of mythical ethos around him, Ocean wants us to understand that he’s just a man. He feels, he cries, he regrets. He even (gasp!) makes mistakes. And unlike gods, the album isn’t perfect. Lead single “Nikes,” while certainly a more than capable song, is a questionable choice to start the record off with, and the distortion in Ocean’s voice can be a little off-putting. However, nitpicking aside, Blonde is easily one of the best albums of the year, and further separates Ocean from his many R&B contemporaries. Whereas they tend to coat their songs with either hedonistic lyrics or non-believable emotion, Ocean’s music is authentic. You can feel the raw passion in his voice; you believe him when he says he doesn’t want someone to go. You believe him when he says willing to risk it all to be with them. With Blonde, Frank Ocean has proved that he’s not a one-hit wonder; he’s one of the most gifted artists in recent memory.