Sometimes the best publicity is a proper disappearance — and no one does disappearance like Frank Ocean. Four years of near silence brought to light his distaste for fame and a feeling of betrayal from fans, but with two new albums in one weekend, Ocean is back to stake his claim as one of the revolutionary musicians of his generation.
Although the 45-minute “visual album” Endless emphasized the importance of the creative process, it felt more like a one-dimensional combination of instrumentals and B-sides rather than a fluid project. The avant-garde, 17-track Blonde, however, truly displays Ocean’s range and ambitions, stressing all the messages of Endless while adding powerful stories of heartbreak and regret through a chaotic R&B style. Based solely on that description, Blonde sounds similar to The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s most recent album. However, the biggest difference between the two artists is that Kanye’s ramblings are hit or miss, whereas Frank Ocean’s thoughts hit home every time.
Take “Nikes,” Blonde’s first single. The song is built around a distaste for materialism and dives into Ocean’s constantly conflicting opinions on drugs, relationships and love. Built on a simple and spacious beat, the track builds to a tasteful use of autotune, hitting on emotions few artists can capture with so few words. Kanye West’s approach would have been head on and lacking grace, but with his poetic lyrics, Ocean manages to make his perspective relatable to almost any listener.
As Blonde continues, Ocean looks back on his life’s successes and failures. The album’s second track, “Ivy,” sounds reminiscent of Ocean’s first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, dreaming of what a relationship could have been while emphasizing the importance of remembering the past and forgiving mistakes. Followed up with “Pink + White,” another nostalgic hit, Blonde begins to fall into a pattern of seemingly random memories and spastic reactions.
Ocean follows with “Be Yourself,” a phone message from a mother warning her child of the dangers of drugs. The next track, “Solo,” contrasts with her anti-drug message within its first verse, telling a story of an acid trip at a club and mixing up the pronunciation of “inhale” with “in hell.”
Blonde’s interludes continue in this pattern, playing a crucial role in the album’s progression. “Good Guy” might be the simplest song on the album, relying solely on Ocean’s vocals and a hazy lo-fi production style. “Facebook Story,” which tells a tale of French producer Sebastian’s relationship status on the social network, makes listeners aware of technology’s role in Ocean’s anecdotes.
“White Ferrari” and “Siegfried” both break from Ocean’s reccuring alternative R&B style, playing into art pop and standing out with backbone guitar riffs.
As a whole, Blonde works better as a concurrent experience rather than as individual songs. One track allows listeners to discover a small portion of Frank’s psyche, but the album in its entirety encapsulates his musings and plays into the larger story of life.
By the end of one listen, it would be easy to consider Ocean as a man on the verge of mental shambles, but Blonde’s concluding track, “Futura Free,” pronounces the opposite. Ocean tells of his successes rather than missteps, including anecdotes about his former Odd Future collaborator Tyler, the Creator sleeping on his couch and the role of family in his life. The track’s second half is a collage of interview snippets conducted by people asking simple questions, concluding the album in a positive light.
Blonde isn’t without momentary flaws. Some instruments are hidden behind the beautiful but dominant guitar riffs, and occasionally, Ocean repeats himself on more minor points of a song. But taken as a whole, Blonde will stick with listeners for years to come.
Genre: Alternative R&B