Frank Ocean Surprises With His Sophomore Album Blonde
by Jack Delea on Saturday, October 1st, 2016
By the last week of July 2016, the release of Frank Ocean’s long awaited sophomore album, Boys Don’t Cry, had been put off for more than a year. After numerous false rumors of a release date, Frank’s fans were unsure whether an album would be coming out at all. Come August, however, a glimmer of hope had appeared.
On August 1st, Frank Ocean’s website, boysdontcry.co, was updated with a live stream. It played a loop of Frank building a staircase in a warehouse while white noise played in the background. This loop was eventually accompanied by some music. On August 19, Frank released his visual album, Endless, exclusively on Apple Music. It features the same footage of his building a staircase in the warehouse.
One day later, on August 20, his “real” album, Blonde, was released to Apple Music and the iTunes store. Earlier that day Frank posted the locations of four pop-up shops around the globe that were giving away a magazine titled Boys Don’t Cry, of which there were only 1,600 copies and a slightly modified version of Blonde. Lines ran out of stores and around blocks on the day of release.
Blonde is a drastically different album from Channel Orange. While Channel Orange, Frank’s first major album, is full of grand and poppy instrumentals, Blonde is full of subdued, stripped back beats, often consisting of reverberant guitar chords, vintage electric piano, and organ lines. The vocals are also very raw and reverberant.
Though the album is relatively stripped back, there are more vibrant moments. The song “Pretty Sweet” takes the biggest risk, starting with Frank screaming violently over distorted guitars and wild strings. The beat of “Pink+White” – produced by Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator – shines because of its funky bass line and drums. The drum pattern is also a key piece of “Nights.” While the first part of “Nights” feels very bright, the beat switch takes the song down a dark, more R&B-type lane.
“Nikes,” meanwhile, the lead and only single, has a similarly dark mood, with a bass-driven, drugged-out beat, and a high-pitched vocal track. And while the song definitely stands out as one of the more poppy/hip-hoppy songs on the album, it still fits the general mood of sleepier, darker instrumentals (compared to Channel Orange).
Lyrically, Blonde is a very personal album compared to Ocean’s earlier projects. Up until now, Frank has proved to be an excellent storyteller, writing powerful fables about the reality of his world and people around him. While Channel Orange has its fair share of personal songs, it doesn’t compare to Blonde in that realm.
Nearly every song on the new album feels like a true story. In “Ivy,” Frank recalls his failed relationships and reminisces about his adolescence. “Good Guy” is especially personal, explaining a time when Frank went on a blind date with a man he met through mutual friends. In Blonde, Frank details his reality and the problems that have accompanied it.
The general consensus over the album was very positive. “I was worried and skeptical before I started listening to Blonde, just because follow ups to masterpieces like Channel Orange are usually much worse. I was pleasantly surprised as soon as I started playing the album,” says Natasha Roy (III). She continues, “Some songs on Blonde like ‘Ivy,’ ‘Futura Free,’ ‘Solo,’ ‘Pink+White,’ and ‘Nikes,’ are, in my opinion, some of Frank’s best off of both albums.”
Willy Torney (II) chimes in, saying “[Blonde is] quite different from his previous album, and it’s a great record. I would recommend Channel Orange to someone who wants to start to listen to Frank. I would recommend Blonde to someone who enjoys Frank Ocean already and/or is willing to hear something different.”
Overall, Frank Ocean’s Blonde is a new turn for his music, straying from poppy storytelling and moving into more raw, spacious, and personal tracks that explore Frank’s life deeper than ever.
So, it’s time for the critical question: was Frank’s album worth the wait? In my opinion, yes. While the album took me by surprise, I appreciate it more with every listen. Blonde is a daring yet beautiful journey through the mind, the heart, and the soul — it won’t disappoint.
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