While I appreciated Endless, I think everyone knew that it was just a taste of what we were all about to get with Frank’s real sophomore record. So now after all the waiting this has dropped and Frank Ocean fans could not be happier. I will admit, the fanboy in me is tempted to just completely takeover here but I will try and restrain myself and be as objective as possible here. That being said Blonde is one of the best albums of 2016 so far and I am so happy I waited so long for this.
My first listen had me worried when I heard the pitched up vocals that start off a play through the first half of “Nikes.” While you can definitely make out that it is Frank, it is not what I was expecting. After a few listens the vocals became oddly satisfying and just makes it sound that much better when Frank finally arrives halfway through the song. The song plays with ideas of materialism and people wanting to use Ocean for his money and fame. Then Frank’s unaltered voice comes in to remind his fans despite their best efforts they cannot control or predict the future of his music. The beat feels heavy and dark, arguably the heaviest this album ever gets with its sound.
Things lighten up with “Ivy,” which feels like a sequel to “Thinkin’ Bout You” as it reflects on a past young love. Frank reflects on how he has grown since then and even if the relationship soured they still have sweet memories to hold with them. “Pink + White” fits perfectly after this, also reflecting on past love, this time thinking of the lessons he has learned, mainly how to deal with things that cannot be controlled. This is definitely the most “pop” song on here, thanks to Pharrell and Tyler, the Creator’s production as well as some light backings from no other than Beyoncé.
The album then gives us the first of its varied interludes with “Be Yourself” which is framed as a voicemail left by Frank’s mother warning him about the dangers of smoking weed and how he should stay off. This is a message that Frank seems to be ignoring on the following song “Solo” where he discusses how weed helps him escape from his issues. He sings “it’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire, inhale, inhale there’s heaven,” cleverly making a double entendre was “inhale” and “in hell.” The song also reflects on Frank’s desire to try and take life slowly and stay out of the fast lane. Frank also reflects on societal issues such as divorce and abortion in very subtle ways with his verses. The backing instrumentation is quiet, with only an organ playing, really adding more weight to the lyrics.
“Skyline To” is a fairly simple song that sees Frank looking at the sex and drugs that fill his life. The song also features a brief cameo from Kendrick Lamar who simply adds a few words at the end of Frank’s lines. While his involvement in the song is not necessary, any more of him would not have fit in on the track at all. The sexual themes continue on “Self Control,” an acoustic track where Frank struggles to control himself around someone who he knows he cannot be with. He sings about their differences in experience and in maturity and with his hectic life, seeing this lover is as common as seeing a UFO.
“Nights” is one of the most complex songs on here, essentially breaking down into two parts. The first part is more rapped than sung and focuses on Frank’s lost trust in his family and friends as he reflects on his life back in New Orleans. The next part, which feels more like a traditional Frank Ocean song, dives into his life after Hurricane Katrina and how he had to work the night shift hard to make it out of where he was living.
The album takes a brief turn for a little bit with the 79 second “Solo (Reprise)” which features an incredible verse from André 3000. The famously reclusive rapper reflects on his 20 years in rap while also attacking current rappers who do not even bother to write their own verses. He ends this rap with the thought-provoking likes “I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving, I’ve stumbled and lived every word, was I working just way too hard?” In such a short amount of time he is able to remind everyone why he is so talented and also makes us want him to come out of retirement.
The idea of feeling close to someone in the modern age is tackled on “Facebook Story” and “Close to You.” The former is simply an interlude with producer SebastiAn talking about a girlfriend who broke up with him over not accepting her friend request on Facebook. This leads up to a digitally distorted cover of the Carpenter songs, showing how technology can get in the way of real romance.
The album begins to wind down with “White Ferrari” a song looking into a relationship where Frank feels so comfortable with his partner he does even say he loves them in person. He sounds like he is trying to hold this relationship together though, saying he will care for her forever, reciting lines from The Beatles but in the end, as Bon Iver says in his beautiful outro, the other person does not feel they are strong enough to last.
This heartbreak fuels “Seigfried” where Frank seems to be broken down from his breakup and all the stresses in his life and considers settling down to live a normal suburban life. He repeats Elliott Smith with the line “this is not my life, it’s just a fond farewell to a friend,” a particularly heartbreaking line that pays tribute to the late artist well.
Continuing the theme of looking back at his life, “Godspeed” plays like a gospel-inspired song where Frank sings to his childhood self. Then the closing track “Futura Free” comes in which is Frank openly singing to his fans about how grateful he is for his success, despite the obvious difficulties it has caused him. This would honestly be a perfect conclusion if the second half which features an interview with Frank’s brother Ryan. The audio is messy and while it probably means a lot to the people in it, it does not work entirely for me.
That aside, this album is absolutely incredible and for me, completely worth the wait. It is definitely a softer, more retrospective record than Channel Orange but still feels every bit as personal to me. While it pains me to think of how long it might be until we get new Frank Ocean music, I know that he has left us with plenty to listen to and we should never think about rushing him. Without adding any unneccesary and loud production, Frank has created something more focused on the soul in his voice and the words he sings. This is an essential album of 2016 and one not to be looked over.
Best Tracks: Nikes, Ivy, Pink + White, Solo, Self Control, Nights, Solo (Reprise), White Ferrari, Seifeld, Godspeed
Worst Track: Pretty Sweet