Album Review: ‘Blonde’ by Frank Ocean

7 mins read
Photo: The Independent

by Mark Cruikshank

The phrase ‘highly anticipated’ is thrown around very often whenever artists such as Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar come back on the scene, but the use of the phrase has never been more apt then when applied to Frank Ocean’s new release, ‘Blonde’.

Fans of the ‘Thinkin Bout You’ singer have been impatiently waiting for Ocean to release his sophomore album since it was announced that he begun work on it in 2013. Since then, the internet has been ablaze with disgruntled music goers who had been given almost no details about the album, or even when it would be released.

However, for the past few months, Ocean has been teasing confused fans with cryptic graphics which included rumoured release dates along with the words, which turned out to be the title of an accompanying magazine, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. Ever since Beyoncé pulled a Beyoncé, telling your fans when your album will be released just won’t do anymore.

Nevertheless, the confusion didn’t last for long, and Ocean’s deal with Apple saw the release of the visual album ‘Endless’ on Apple Music, the day before his second album ‘Blonde’ was released into the world.

‘Blonde’ (stylised as blond) currently sits at the top of the iTunes charts for obvious reasons. The hype surrounding this album was huge and Ocean is a very talented artist with a beautiful and highly revered first album, ‘channel ORANGE’.

Starting off with a smooth and dreamy sounding track, ‘Nikes’ also serves as the album’s first single. It is carried by a soothing electric drum beat and features a distorted, pitched vocal from Ocean, something that appears throughout the record. The vibe created by the song continues into ‘Ivy’ before momentum starts to build up slightly as guitars are introduced and the bass fills the gap between moments. While neither songs are anything to scream and shout about, they are overall satisfying and are great songs to sit and relax to.

‘Pink + White’ moves into a different, less experimental, direction than the previous two tracks and has a mellower R&B feel to it. Ocean introduces an ear pleasing piano riff with a beat which gives this track a bit more structure than ‘Nikes’ and ‘Ivy’, and Beyoncé’s backing vocal midway through the track takes it somewhere else and create such a peaceful, psychedelic music experience.

After an interlude of Ocean’s mother warning him to not take drugs on ‘Be Yourself’, Ocean breaks into the best song on the album. In ‘Solo’, we hear Frank lament of being emotionally and physically ‘solo’, which throughout the song can also be interpreted as being ‘so low’. He croons to the sound of an organ with some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album: “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire, in Hell […] there’s Heaven”. He then shows off his vocal ability in a length of gorgeously smooth sounding notes that carry a lot of emotion and force while still managing to stay part of the song.

Unfortunately, after the wonderfully trippy track ‘Skyline To’, that would have fit relatively well in ‘channel ORANGE’ the record begins to become muddier. Although the lyrics from songs like ‘Self Control’ and ‘Good Boy’ clearly show the significance of the experiences in his life, the inclusion of these songs make it sound more like a diary entry rather than an experience that translates well into a song. Musically they are just not as good as the other songs on this album.

It picks back up again with ‘Solo (reprise)’ which is unlike any other track on the album. The 1 minutes 18 second rap from André 3000 is a reprise which has no musical likeness to the song ‘Solo’ but carries it’s theme into a separate creation. With an interesting and uplifting riff, which sounds like a Nokia ringtone version of Habanera from the opera Carmen, it is definitely one many fans will be hitting repeat on even though it contains no vocals from Ocean himself.

‘Pretty Sweet’ throws you head first into the last seven tracks with what can be described as an over saturation of sound with Ocean soliloquising over the top. From here onwards, songs return to the state of not fitting that well with the beginning of the album. Songs like ‘White Ferrari’ and ‘Futura Free’ become slightly too experimental and have a real lack of structure and relevance within the album. However, the bravery of Ocean to create songs like these is something that should be applauded, as they are so out there that it becomes almost obvious that are not going to get a great deal of radio time.

Although it has a lot of faults, ‘Blonde’ is an album that shows Frank Ocean’s growth as a musician and his lack of fear to try things musically and lyrically that other artists would not dare. It is not a collection of songs that anyone will play at a party, but a relaxing reflection of Frank Ocean’s inner most thoughts mixed with his determination to create something that has never been created before. It could maybe do with a few more obvious hits, which are well in the capabilities for Ocean to create, however, from just one listen, it is obvious that a person’s heart and soul was poured into this record and the artistic risks taken should be appreciated.

Rating: 3.5/5

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