Review – ‘Blonde’ Frank Ocean by, Kyle Pinaro
A risk that was worth the wait
Frank Ocean seemingly disappeared after his debut album channel ORANGE dropped in the summer of 2012, leaving fans and critics clamoring for new music after his incredible debut. For years new trickled about a possible release window until 2015 rolled around, which gave birth to a release month, July. But July came and there wasn’t a single sign of an album, the story goes that Frank Ocean was supposed to headline FYF Fest and when his album was played during rehearsals he hated it and decided to scrap his performance as well as the album. After that, it seemed like an eternity before any news would be shared regarding his current album.
Fast forward to July 2016. A mysterious image of a library card with “Boys Don’t Cry” on the top revealed some sort of release date, showing various dates crossed out leaving July 2016 uncrossed. This is when hysteria reached an all-time high. A solid month passes and again no sign of any music until August 1st rolls around and a mysterious video of Frank Ocean in an empty studio appeared on Frank Ocean’s Tumblr, with a small insignia of the Apple Music logo in the top right corner. This was it; this was the lead up to the album. The New York Times reported the album would drop that Friday, August 5th, and yet nothing happened on August 5th. It would later be revealed that The New York Times was singlehandedly responsible for ruining the album rollout, but it released. And boy was it worth it.
Blonde is technically Frank Ocean’s third studio album since that mysterious video turned out to be a teaser for his visual album Endless, which dropped a day before Blonde did. Blonde, stylized as blond on the album cover to show the masculine and feminine versions of the word, is a deep, rich, and sonically risky project. At times it can feel pretentious and at times it can feel a little slow, but truthfully this is some of his best work. Of course, no album is for everybody, but this one, in particular, is far from your nostalgia ULTRA and channel ORANGE Frank. There’s a lot of pain on this album, a lot more than we’ve ever seen in any of Frank’s projects before. Sit down and listen to this record, and I mean really listen to it, this a multiple listen type of album. The first run through of the album felt a little “meh” at times, and honestly didn’t feel too complex, but by the third listen the intricacies of the production really started to shine and it started to feel like an experience.
Blonde takes risks no commercial album has in the past couple of years (except To Pimp a Butterfly), and those risks pay off tremendously. Each song on the album is layered and has a variety of sounds. Some tracks have multiple vocal overlays and some are stripped down ballads, and Frank brings his A game as always. Essentially the subject matter is about relationships and the album goes through phases of a relationship itself, and as the album progresses it tends to be a little darker, shedding light on insecurities and losing people we love. Skits are peppered throughout but they don’t serve much purpose, mostly filler stuff, almost all the skits refer to the subject matter sans one. Features are generally scarce on the album, with small appearances here and there from Kendrick Lamar and even Beyoncé, adding some background vocals and accentuation on Frank’s lyrics, other than that it’s a one-man show.
This album is a massive feat for an artist like Frank, it’s intricate, depressing, stoic, and intense. But everything comes together in a beautiful way. The album stumbles at times, particularly during some of the experimental sections of the tracks, and the previously mentioned skits, as well as the conclusion of the album. But that aside, this is easily one of the best projects of the year. Don’t skip this one.
– Kyle Pinaro