Review: Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”

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Photo Courtesy of Apple Insider

Frank Ocean released his newest album, “Blonde” on Apple Music on Aug. 5 to most teenagers’ pleasant surprise.

Taking an absence from music isn’t unheard of in the music world. Cat Stevens did in 1978, the Pixies did in 1991, Phish did in 2004, and hell, the Sonics just last year released an album after 48 years of nothing.

So, Frank Ocean’s four year leave isn’t something unusual. But people thought it was. We live in an age of instant communication and connectivity so when no one ever heard anything from Frank, not even a single tweet, people took notice. Fans made memes, tweeted their confusion, and I too was scratching my head, wondering if his career was over. Thankfully, it’s not, and with the release of his latest album Blonde his career might have just taken off.

What made Channel Orange, Frank’s first album, so unique was his transparency. He had an ability to bluntly open up to his audience about anything. Take  “Super Rich Kids,” for example. As Pitchfork puts it, he “skewed L.A. privilege without breaking a sweat”. Frank does the same in “Sweet Life” as he points out the ignorance of high class life.

This transparency is apparent in Blonde, and in comparison to Channel Orange, it digs even deeper. In “Nikes”, Frank criticizes materialism by saying “all you want is Nikes, but the real ones,” and even admits to his own materialistic tendencies by saying “just like you, just like me”. He does this all behind a soothing, melodic backdrop which is unique to Frank.

“Ivy” gives off a similar vibe. It’s dreamy, giving off goosebumps; and this is only intensified when you listen to the lyrics. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me” is his opening line. He talks about a past love here (maybe first love) which is nostalgic and personal.

However personal the song, and the album as a whole is, he still has an impressive list of collaborators. Beyonce’s voice compliments Frank’s on “Pink and White.” And in “Solo (reprise),” Frank’s voice in previous songs juxtaposes against the rapper André 3000. The rap changes up the mood and acts as a pleasant surprise for those who aren’t so into Frank’s chill R&B.

After listening to the album as a whole, it now makes sense to me that Frank took a four year break. The album is a manifestation of what was probably an exploration of himself, and that must have taken time. He explores his sexuality in songs like “Self Control” and reflects on his drug use in “Be Yourself” and “Timeline To.” He even studies the world around him and interjects politically in “Nikes” and “Facebook Story.”

While Blonde isn’t exactly a diary, it’s as close to a diary as an album can get. Frank reveals his own happiness and his own sorrows in songs that not only get better the more you hear them, but songs that reveal more and more upon each listen. And for that, I think it’s one of the best albums of 2016.