At once intimate and expansive: Frank Ocean’s new LP is food for the soul.
How are Frank Ocean albums like a bus? Well, you wait four years for a follow-up to debut ‘Channel Orange’, and then two come at once. August 2016 saw Ocean foray into the medium of the visual album with ‘Endless’, followed a few days later by a 17-track LP called ‘Blonde’. Under a previous working title of ‘Boys Don’t Cry’, the LP had been eagerly anticipated by fans who will no doubt be delighted by its depth and quality as well as the impressive list of collaborators: Beyoncé, Kanye West, Pharrell, Andre 3000, Tyler The Creator, James Blake, Jamie xx, and Rick Rubin among them. Ocean went even further, and treated fans to a 360-page magazine which sold in limited quantities in pop-up shops in New York, London, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The magazine, named ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ after the LP’s working title, was something of a portal into Ocean’s mind. It featured his own photography, a screenplay he wrote, horoscopes, interviews with persons close to him, and a section for ‘hopes and dreams’.
The music of ‘Blonde’ itself proves equally introspective. Laid-back and cool, the production favours lush vocals and a minimalist approach. Lead single ‘Nikes’ features a winding melody and touches on the current police brutality towards black people in the US with the lyric ‘RIP Trayvon, that n***a look just like me’. Later, on Beyoncé collab ‘Pink + White’, Ocean offers up a slow, grooving beat and a simple, yet gorgeous, chord sequence in a slow burner of a song that builds as it progresses. On occasion the record sounds overly self-indulgent, with Ocean’s extended vocal improvisation on ‘Solo’ and ‘White Ferrari’ making the listener want to say ‘we get it, you can sing’. If there is one thing the album is lacking in, it would be energy. The minimalist production style is not always enough to sustain Ocean’s winding melodies.
Lack of energy aside, it is clear that the record offers fans a glimpse into Ocean’s head and his world, and is definitely not intended to sound ‘commercial’. It has already proven a massive hit, and true Frank Ocean fans will appreciate ‘Blonde’ for what it is: a deep, exploratory artwork which is best enjoyed at home in the small hours. Here’s hoping that the wait for Ocean’s next effort won’t be quite so long this time around.
This article was published in our September 2016 issue.