It was really hard for people to imagine that Frank Ocean would return after a four year hiatus. Well, he did and as a Frank Ocean fan, I could not have been happier to experience ‘Blonde’. No one predicted what he would return with, yet here we are with an album of minimalist, avant garde R&B. I’ve had approximately two weeks to sit with the album after its release on August 20th, and when I say I’ve sat with it, it’s literally the only album I’ve been playing in its entirety. The 17-track full album was made available to everyone via iTunes and some in physical CD form at his Boys Don’t Cry pop-up stores in four US cities. To return with an album so spacious and deep like ‘Blonde’ takes lots of confidence.
Frank Ocean trades the conventional-ism from his last album for the accessibility of purified emotions. This brings me to my first point, ‘Blonde’ is definitely not here for radio play or anything you would expect to hear at a party. It’s only single is the album intro “Nikes”, a reverb-filled song that echoes drum pads and distorts vocal melodies. Here he makes the most overtly political statement across the entire record addressing oppression in our community and honoring some lost in tragedies. It’s definitely the albums most propulsive tracks.
We notice that the older Frank gets, the more his voice has grown and the more dexterous, while some of his stories have become more abstract. This gives me a little Kanye feel as he nods to the gospel on “Godspeed” staying grounded in its prayer to steadfast but broken love. He also becomes very aware that he will no be forever young and starts thinking about his future, contemplating settling down with “two kids and a swimming pool” on “Siegfried’ in a spaced-out soliloquy about living life. Running it back to “Skyline To”, he still keeps that mystery and mood about sex, summer, and California haze. On “Solo”, he contemplates various stages of being single and lastly finding peace with being alone. It’s okay to be alone. Now, on its “Solo (Reprise)” we get the only major vocal guest appearance on the album, and that is a crazy verse by Andre 3 Stacks. It was kind of like a page ripped out of his journal looking back at his 20 years in hip-hop, feeling duped by fellow rappers, and an opportunity for nostalgia. Speaking of nostalgia, Frank’s first major album was called Nostalgia, Ultra and it just so happens hes longing for that feeling on “Self Control” and “White Ferrari” where he showcases his amazing vocals with a sad touch that’s three-dimensional. “Pink + White” was highlighted by Pharrell’s signature pianos and melodies by Beyonce and one of my favorite production on the album. As far as structural edginess on the album, “Nights” does if for me.
‘Blonde’ was definitely what we needed musically and structurally. Whether or not this album was worth the wait is up to the listener due to the concept and with the sincerity he’s delivered to his audience.