‘Blonde’ By Frank Ocean Album Review: A Long-Awaited Triumph
It’s been four years since R&B singer Frank Ocean has released any new music and he managed to create just enough buzz in the months preceding the release of Blonde to make it one of the most talked about affairs of the year. On Blonde Ocean doesn’t disappoint the fans, proving that his perfectionist approach to music is indeed worth the wait.
Released alongside its companion visual album Endless, Blonde is similar to it sonically, though markedly more outstanding. There is a sense of being lost in an unfamiliar world or a dream world – one that perhaps the artist himself is not well acquainted with – but you are still on for the journey. This makes the record feel a lot more existential as well. At times Ocean contemplates death and the meaning of life, which he does both by the exquisite, ethereal and romantic poetry of his lyrics and stark and timely reminders of reality that creep in as he does expertly on opener “Nikes,” for example, referencing the Trayvon Martin’s killing or the recollection of hurricane Katrina, which motivates some of the images on “Nights.”
Stylistically, Ocean has evolved a great deal since his smashing Grammy-winning 2012 album Channel ORANGE. He has always espoused a minimalist approach to R&B, but his sound is now more atmospheric, stripped down to echoing vocals, gentle guitar arrangements and only occasional beats. Ocean’s vision is clearly executed, emphasizing self-control as usual and as seen on Endless (there’s even a song titled “Self-Control”).
Much like other aspects of his music, the cameo appearances by key figures in the music business from Beyoncé to Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is handpicked and carefully curated. Beyoncé’s vocals provide the misty background in “Pink + White,” while Kendrick Lamar shows up to balance out Ocean’s eeriness on “Skyline To” and OutKast’s Andre 3000 performs a speedy rap on “Solo (Reprise)” over distorted sounds.
It is now more than clear that Blonde is the kind of album that creates and exists in a world of its own. That is not to say that Ocean is not conscious of the reality in which he creates. On the contrary – he is one of the most socially conscious artists today and his music provides a world to escape to even if to the hour-long duration of 17 tracks that cover the basis of human emotion from lamentation and loneliness to romance and longing. Blonde does not need any extra flourishes to achieve this; the mere suggestion of unpretentious intimacy – the kind that you wouldn’t want to exploit or undermine and one that Ocean has plenty of – justifies the process and the long wait.