By Joey Thyne
Frank Ocean has re-emerged into the limelight after four years of obscurity. In the time since his last album, “Channel Orange,” hype transformed the enigmatic “next Frank Ocean project” from simply an album into something else entirely. Such a buildup can be deadly to an artist.
Over a year later than initially promised, music has finally been released. He compensated by releasing an original magazine and the video “Endless,” accompanied by a haunting soundtrack, finally culminating in his sophomore album, “Blonde.”
The music from “Endless” felt like a lonely car ride through the night, whereas “Blonde” is the sunrise peeking over the horizon. There seems to be a conscious effort to sound different than “Channel Orange.” While “Channel Orange” was epic in storytelling with soaring choruses, “Blonde” is more intimate, full of love notes and whispers under covers. “Channel Orange” was mostly gloomy, but with “Blonde” Frank feels free to create positive-sounding music. Dramatic synths have been replaced by bright rhythm guitar. The result is a refreshing, dreamy atmosphere.
Opening track “Nikes” is Frank sheepishly grinning at the listener, and it’s difficult not to grin back. The following two songs are phenomenal. The crisp drums and ringing piano of “Pink + White” are reminiscent of picking fresh fruit from a garden.
“Ivy” and “Self Control” prove Frank has the chops to produce songs with only a few stripped-down chords to rely on. This is achieved through masterful songwriting and great singing; his signature voice is smoother than ever. “Solo” and “Nights” blur genre boundaries, questioning what should be considered pop, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop. All of these are massive stand-alone tracks.
Frank is at his best when he is at his strangest. “Skyline To” is dripping with vocal experimentation and dizzying keyboards. These hypnotic idiosyncrasies define Frank as an artist. Lyrics throughout “Blonde” contain poignant poetry. Recurring themes include the ambiguity between affection and sex: “We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you / I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you,” he sings in “Nikes”; loss of innocence: “Summer’s not as long as it used to be,” he sings in “Skyline To”; disillusionment with reality: “This is not my life / It’s just a fond farewell to a friend,” he sings in “Siegfried.”
Andre 3000, who was featured on “Pink Matter” — one of the best songs on “Channel Orange” — raps alone in the brilliant “Solo (Reprise),” commenting on the current state of music through furious flows. The third act of the album thereafter seems less notable, but not entirely forgettable. “Siegfried” and “Godspeed” are sublime in their ethereal wandering. “Blonde” closes with “Futura Free,” a Kanye-esque Auto-Tuned rant-of-consciousness discussing the pressure Frank feels as an artist.
Music fans were upset with Frank Ocean for taking so long to release this album. People are so accustomed to an oversaturation of entertainment that they forget sometimes that art takes time. He needed to take his time to generate quality, nuanced work.
Now it seems as if people are so happy to have new Frank Ocean music that they are driven to mass hysteria. At the end of the day, it is just an album and it will be a while before the dust clears and people can properly appreciate it. It is a fantastic album that will continue to reveal itself as time passes.
Joey Thyne can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.