Frank Ocean finally drops second LP, titled Blonde
The wait is FINALLY over! Frank Ocean just released his long awaited third album Blonde. Four years after the commercial and critical success channel ORANGE we finally get more music by the R&B and hiphop star. The new project was first announced with a release date for July 2015 under the title Boys Don’t Cry, but a year passed by and nothing happened. The New York Times reported the record would come out on the 5th of August and Ocean’s fans were fuming on Twitter when again no album was dropped. Now roughly two weeks later all is forgiven as we finally have a record to enjoy!
This time around Frank is not playing around and makes a big deal out of the release. Earlier this weekend we received the visual album Endless and he followed up the next day with the single ‘Nikes’, complete with video. The actual album Blonde will be sold in special pop up shows, accompanied by a Boys Don’t Cry magazine. Online the album is available for streaming through Apple Music and you can buy it on iTunes. That’s all good and well, but what does it actually sound like?
On the first few listens Blonde is less instant in the sense that it does not contain tracks as catchy as for example ‘Lost’ and ‘Sweet Life’. The production does not deliver moments as big as the in your face drop of ‘Pyramids’. ‘Blonde’ is an understated record full of subtleties, emotional layers and gorgeous vocal melodies, which unfold itself a bit more with every listen. This is a body of work that should be consumed as a whole from start to finish and with every time more and more hooks and details will unveil itself.
The album opens with ‘Nikes’, followed by the understated guitar based track ‘Ivy’, a sweet and nostalgic look back at a past love and at the same time one of the more catchy moment on this record. In this track it already becomes apparent that Frank’s vocal delivery has grown in the past four years. His voice is crystal clear and has so much soul. He easily moves from smooth and sultry to heartbroken and fragile and back to confident with attitude. In terms of production, there is a lot of play with the vocals as well, creating effects with heavy autotune in several tracks. On ‘Pink + White’ he delivers a laidback R&B beat with a lot of soul in the vocals and instrumentation. Beyoncé comes in towards the ends to belt out a bit to top it all off.
Other than Beyoncé, there is a long list of collaborators and influences for this record which Frank published in the magazine, most notably including rapper Andre 3000 on ‘Solo (Reprise)’ and gospel singer Kim Burrell on ‘Godspeed’. The first interlude on the record, ‘Be Yourself’, is a phone call by a mother to warn for the effects of alcohol and drugs on her kid, after which ‘Solo’ follows, an atmospheric and personal tale of his growing up, including a fair share of references to smoking weed. The short but sweet ‘Good Guy’ tells the story of going on a blind date with a guy in a gay bar. The record is full of personal lyrics packed in unique soundscapes like this.
The best example might be ‘Seigfried’, one of the absolute highlights of Blonde. Frank debates his life choices, thinking about taking the easy route, with the title referring to the mythical warrior who portrays bravery. “Been living in an idea. An idea from another man’s mind. Maybe I’m a fool to settle for a place with some nice views. Maybe I should move, settle down, two kids and a swimming pool. I’m not brave”, he sings. The track builds up in an unconvential manner to the gorgeous outro where he declares: “I’d do anything for you, in the dark.”
In terms of production, ‘Nights’ shines the most with deep beats and an ear catching change of pace halfway through while his vocals are phenomenal on the soaring ‘Self Control’ and the ethereal ‘White Ferrari’. If you are expecting to hear some radiofriendly tracks with obvious hit choruses here, you might want to reconsider. Blonde is an outstanding body of work that needs your complete attention in order to fully wash over you in all its glory. It’s a brave effort that goes deep in terms of lyrics and reaches high when it comes to innovative production and build up of the tracks. Like no other, he builds unique and detailed soundscapes you can get completely lost in. This was well worth the four years wait!