Frank Ocean Delivers A Five Star Performance In Blonde
Frank Ocean drops new album Blonde which proves that “good things are worth waiting for”. After releasing a 45 minute visual album entitled Endless, Ocean comes back with Blonde 24 hours later and dominates the iTunes charts. Unlike Endless a soundtrack of disjointed music, Blonde is where Ocean finds his voice. The R&B crooner shares a sea of varied emotions in Endless leaving many wanting more. Ocean definitely gives fans that “more” in album Blonde; a more concrete project letting his audience know how he feels about Black Lives Matter and other hot topics. With Blonde, Ocean cements his reputation as one of the most vital voices of pop since 2012’s Channel Orange.
Endless is marked by falsetto Isley Brothers covers, along with electroclash numbers of Wolfgang Tillmans, making it truly intriguing. But it was just not what people were expecting from the second studio effort of Ocean. After all, techno songs that feature a Samsung Galaxy phone press release which is being read out in a vague German accent can never rate high on any listener’s list.
But within 24 hours of Endless dropping, comes the long awaited second studio album of Ocean, entitled Blonde. And even this is not what people were expecting! The sleeve artwork has the title that is spelled differently, as Blond and not Blonde! The physical edition has a slightly altered track list.
But it still is undeniably a baffling, contrary and a highly intriguing record that has been put out by a major pop star this year. The tone of the album is muted and highly introspective. It is full of spectral guitar. There are no hefty beats or any kind of percussion at all! In fact, nearly half of the 17 tracks in this album do not feature drums. The lyrics here are fragmented and talk about adolescence, consumerism, identity as well as eroticism.
The variety and star quality in Blonde is unparalleled by almost anything else that you may have heard in 2016. This is something like session musicians or all those low-key production hands leading to simply admirable chutzpah!
On hearing it for the first time, it appears that Blonde is a collection of some loose sketches that are yet to be put together by some serious producer. If you listen to Good Guy, it has some wobbly organ chords that are being played under some hurried memories of some hookup that happened in a New York gay bar. White Ferrari appears to be something wandering aimlessly and you will come across a line from the Beatles’ Here, There and Everywhere followed by a passage of semi-singing. Seems that Ocean is not even trying anymore!
But this is simply misplaced cynicism. Blonde is actually an artist who is cashing in on all the critical checks post Channel Orange. This is a record that answers only to the vision of its maker. Here Blonde appears to be common with records like Big Star’s Third or even Radiohead’s Kid A. You can see that texture and experimentation are available in plenty over here. Once you are able to realign your expectations, you will come across a record that promises enigmatic beauty, intoxicating emotion and intense depth.
The mood in Blonde is drugged and a bit dislocated. You will find frequent references to weed, psychedelics and so on as the songwriting is entirely unconventional. Ocean has an outer-body experience almost singing in the third person on Blonde. The structure is shifting shapes in Nights. There is minimalist guitar chug of Ivy making the distinction between verse and chorus almost impossible to perceive! Blonde simply torches the rules that dictate what a black artist is expected to be doing!
All those A-list guests are camouflaged here as nobody is important enough to be a part of the music that belongs to Ocean alone. You will always find snapshots of love that is elusive, fleeting lust and so on. All this is shorn of context. It is told in the present first and then moves on to the past tense. This is a fragmented style that belies obsession with memory and mortality.
Blonde is not any bold pronouncements on race or even on sexuality. The crooner is both present and absent at the same time. Ocean’s voice is on the tracks but his body and mind seems in outer space giving the album a really spacey feeling. He makes various statements but leaves their interpretations up to the audience. Ocean has sidestepped the racial politics which were there in To Pimp a Butterfly and Lemonade!
Ocean transcends the very sky in Blonde, one can only wonder if he will conquer space with his next release. As a newly minted independent artist, Ocean’s creativity no longer has any boundaries. No longer tied to Def Jam/Universal’s “cookie cutter” model for R&B artists, Ocean may just break the mold. Combining Futuristic R&B with soul rhythms, Ocean is redefining what rhythm and blues truly is.