Oftentimes when an artist prolongs the release of their next catalog of work, the hype behind it ascends too far into the cosmos to truly meet what was expected. With Frank Ocean’s Blonde, the hype extended as far as the heavens, and has since descended back to Earth bearing the gift of complete fulfillment, and an underlying message that Frank truly did see the future first.
Starting off, it is important to know that while this is the follow up to the beloved Channel Orange, fans should not expect more of the same this time around. Ocean opens his album with the track Nikes, and brings along with him a familiar sound but with a much more somber tone. His pitched up vocal delivery creates suspense as spectators await the moment they hear his raw and unaltered glory. Upon reaching that moment, the song shifts gears as a soft guitar accompanies a voice that starts off impregnable but transcends into falsettos of pure vulnerability.
Truly, the guitar (and other uses of acoustic instrumentation) is what pushes this release onto the next level of R&B. Other examples of this technique reside in songs like Skyline To, that feature introspective lyrics dealing with the brevity of life that would not stand out as prominently without the sheer emotion that acoustics can provide. On the flip side, the guitar is also used in a way to create jarring or abrasive effects to an otherwise traditional sound. Towards the end of the bridge in Nights, the electric guitar plays a descending riff that contrasts from the overall melodic smoothness we are used to from standard R&B. It is elements like this that further the notion that “perfect music” is going out of style, and that experimentation is the future.
From the very first slew of rumors, it has been known that the overall structure and production on this project would fall under legendary standards, and the rumors would happen to be right. Features like James Blake, Pharrell, Beyoncé, and many more prominent figures hold tidbits of influence throughout this record and showcase that this is not only about Frank himself, but a testament to the talent of our time. One of the best examples of this outside guidance comes from the track Close to You, which happens to be a cover of a song that Stevie Wonder covered himself. In this song, Frank mimics Wonder’s voice modifier by using an effect that is most closely related to the vocal sound of James Blake/ Bon Iver. This tribute serves as a nice double homage to both classic and contemporary influences.
When looking for common patterns within this release, I noticed that no hook or chorus seemed tiring or monotonous, rather, careful thought has been placed into each song to provide the listener with just enough catchiness to rouse the interest, but exits the scene early enough to avoid any level of annoyance and therefore leaves the listener wanting more. Hooks like the ones on Nights, Self Control, and Pretty Sweet all maintain the same standard of brevity mentioned before, but deliver melodies and beats that could stand completely independent of pre/post context and may be an attempt to emulate the pursuit of Nirvana, which is a theme that is brought up within tracks like Siegfried on the latter half of the album.
Undoubtedly, the best quality of this artistry resides in the lyrics themselves. I could go on and on about the double meanings, word bending, post-ironic product placement and metaphysical significance behind this work, but ultimately the best way to experience Blonde is to listen to each track with the lyric sheet wide open and determine the meaning behind these words independently. That being said, it is worth mentioning that while this record contains more than one inherent explanation, a crucial note to mention is that this is an effort to explore inhuman possibilities; to relinquish oneself of stereotypical programming such as “boys don’t cry” or “man up”. Frank’s references to his bisexual orientation are not a mere statement of sexual preference, but an attempt to seek love on all levels of the spectrum and free himself of the bonds and restrictions that inherited roles can possess. Hence, the dispute between the title Blond (masculine) or Blonde (feminine). Frank chooses to take the middle ground and beckons, “Why not both?”.
There will never be enough words that can be said about this dense piece of art. Every track (besides interludes) stands out on their own and presents a cornucopia of sound, innovation, and meaning that could stir up enough conversation to last a whole night, and then some. It may have taken four years, but our countless hours of prophecy and speculation has lead to an unfathomable glimpse into tomorrow. My honest opinion of this album is a 10/10.