By: Ben Wagg –
What is Blonde? With a zine, a last minute name change, and one visual album later, the importance of the music can start to feel obscured. After four years of hype, Frank Ocean can be regarded as a mythic figure regardless of what the album actually is. He won’t have to rely on hype or status however, because the album is an experimental pop accomplishment.
It’s a weird and challenging album. Blonde boasts a few hooks on intro tracks like “Nikes” and “Ivy” before descending into lengthier, less structured songs. Ocean opens the album by crooning a stream of consciousness filtered through chipmunk soul over a moody R&B beat. He quickly condemns materialism and opts to mine the challenges of his relationships. ‘These bitches want Nikes/ They looking for a check/ Tell em it ain’t likely’ he taunts. These lyrics present Ocean’s reverence of craft over money. This is a guy who did write ‘fuck off’ on a $212,500 cheque from Chipotle. The mission statement of these lyrics is guidance as he toys with nostalgia, heartbreak, and life’s fleetingness.
Blonde is chocked full of top tier talent featuring everyone from Pharrell to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood to communicate contemplations on relationships. On Channel Orange, features had a diluting effect. Here though, the album rings as distinctly Frank Ocean. Show stealers such as Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar are delegated to anonymous harmonisations.
Andre 3k is the sole featured verse, appearing on his own track “Solo (Reprise)”. Three stacks flaunts disenchantment by sneering ‘I thought everyone wrote they own verses.’ These words are more potent coming off the 20th Anniversary of Outkast’s ATLiens.
On the lush, indie guitar powered, relationship reminiscence song “Ivy”, Frank sings that ‘The feeling deep down is still good’ despite falling out with someone. He often channels this ‘deep down’ permanence in times of uncertainty. This manifests in the cosmic breakup song “Siegfried”, as the next track opens with ‘I will always love you how I do’. Over the Bon Iver sounding vocals of “White Ferrari” he conceptualizes how ‘Mind over matter is magic’ and that ‘If you think about it it’s over in not time the best life.’ Quiet moments like these oddly haunt longer than the shock and awe of an Andre 3k feature.
The high concept existentialism could be alienating as the album progresses. Ocean’s goofiness (no doubt honed after years in Odd Future) provides relief. This manifests in “Solo”, with delightful boasts such as ‘bones feeling dense as a fuck’.
Interludes jolt the listener into paying attention. A mom warning against substance use in “Be Yourself” is ominous foreshadowing on initial listens. It doesn’t warrant another one though. Interviews with people like Ocean’s brother are interesting the first time around. Skits ultimately slow down the album, and leave you clamouring for them to hurry up so you could listen to the dreamy naturalism of “Pink + White” for the tenth time.
Whether the wait was four or forty years it’s hard not to see this album being just as oddball, indulgent, and inspiring as ever. As Kanye West’s McDonald’s themed poem in the Boys Don’t Cry zine laments, “The Fries Had a Plan’. With this once cult R&B innovator now capturing the zeitgeist’s collective consciousness, it’s apparent that Frank Ocean has one too.