Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’: Album Review

Frank Ocean does whatever he wants. When his label wasn’t paying attention, the singer made Nostalgia, Ultra and released it through Tumblr. Then Jay Z, Kanye West and Beyoncé came knocking on his door. He ended up contributing shining diamonds to their catalogs. His official label debut, Channel Orange, was preempted four years ago with a revealing open letter about a romantic relationship with a man. The album was certified Gold the next year.

Talent aside, Ocean’s acts of irreverence and disregard for what the world perceived an R&B artist should be are what got him here. The rollout to Blonde (released ) was a perfect example of this. The process was slow and deliberate — perfectly illustrated on Endless, a visual album released just one day before Blonde. We’re on Frank Ocean’s time and this LP is an encapsulation of that.

Sonically, the melodies on Blonde are arduous to uncover, and you’re left listening closely, digging to find them. The beat changes in the middle of “Night.” Distortion welcomes you in “Pretty Sweet.” Vocal pitches are played around with on “Nikes” and “Self Control.” Frank’s passion for the alternative lives on with this record.

The digital album’s opener, “Nikes,” is a perfect one — a down-tempo track with lyrics that site acid and cocaine usage, overeager groupies and the deaths of A$AP Yams, Pimp C and Trayvon Martin. It’s a mishmash of heart and fast living.

That’s where Frank Ocean lives right now, at the intersection of his teenage years and his new life of travel, riches and access. “Ivy,” a plucky guitar-backed track finds Ocean reminiscing romantically about his formative years and references his friend, Syd tha Kid. It’s also where it becomes clear that Frank marks specific moments of time with cars: on “Ivy,” with an X6 SUV; on “White Ferrari,” featuring Bon Iver and James Blake, he uses the car as a metaphor for a young relationship that flourished and dissipated quickly.

Frank’s storytelling talent also remains unfettered on Blonde. This time around, unlike the third-person stories told on Channel Orange, personal references to times in Frank’s life are prevalent. “Night” and “White Ferrari’ directly recall New Orleans, his hometown. His relationships take center stage on the stellar “Pink + White,” “Godspeed,” “Self Control” and “Futura Free.” He asks for forgiveness, looks back fondly at those who have been close to him, scrutinizes them and measures new bonds against past ones.

Like many sophomore projects, Blonde was made around the creator’s newfound world. He sings about meet-cutes by the poolside in “Self Control,” going to a gay bar on “Good Guy” and ponders whether his current life actually makes him brave in “Seigfried.”

Yet as much as Ocean channels his personal life to tell the stories found on Blonde, his references remain obscured by metaphor. It’s there where you find the 28 year old’s willingness to play for us, allowing his experiences to converge with ours in some way. Then it stops being about Frank Ocean and the mystery is finally over.

Score: 3.5/5

Jon Reyes

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