After years of speculation, memes, Twitter jokes, and anticipation, Frank Ocean has finally released his new album Blonde. Originally called Boys Don’t Cry, the album has an all-star production team and a lengthy list of fantastic features. Production credits name Rick Rubin, Jamie xx, Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead), Pharrell, and Tyler, the Creator. Features include André 3000 (of Outkast), Beyoncé, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar, and even Yung Lean. The album lives up to its hype— a rare thing to see— and delivers an inner view of the troubled and conflicted mind of Ocean that he gave a glimpse of in Channel Orange so many years ago.
The album opens with the lead single “Nikes.” The atmospheric production of the track— and album as a whole— hits immediately, with a snappy drum machine and wavy synthesizers filling the background. Pitch-shifted vocals sing, “RIP Trayvon, … [he] look just like me,” an obvious allusion to the controversial killing of Trayvon Martin. Upon further investigation of the lyrics, it becomes apparent that the meaning of the song is an indictment of materialism and status symbols in modern pop-culture, such as expensive Nike shoes.
The tracks “Ivy” and “Pink + White” are both more straightforward R&B tracks, with the latter featuring sparse vocals from Pharrell and Tyler, the Creator. After this, the interlude “Be Yourself” begins, and is in the format of a phone message left by (presumably) Ocean’s mother, warning him to avoid drugs and reckless behavior in college. Spoken by Rosie Watson, the mother of Ocean’s friend Jonathan, this track ties into the growing theme of the album being critical of certain superficial traits in modern society.
The next song, “Solo,” features a teetering rhythm and an earworm melody, and explores the feelings of loneliness that accompany self-destructive behavior. With minimal musical accompaniment besides some ethereal background synths, this track is a standout on the album.
“Skyline To,” “Self Control,” “Good Guy,” and “Nights” are all typical Ocean tracks and culminate in a quick reprise of “Solo,” done entirely by André 3000. Rapping about high-end fashion and materialism, 3000 continues to criticize pop culture for encouraging self-destructive behaviors such as overspending and drug abuse.
“Pretty Sweet” is an instrumental track followed by interlude with French producer Sebastian Akchoté-Bozovic delivering a story about how his girlfriend of three years broke their relationship off after she thought he was cheating on her, in “Facebook Story.”
By the track “White Ferrari,” the more traditional Ocean tracks begin to appear again, and the track samples lyrics and melodies from “Here There and Everywhere” by the Beatles. This homage and the metaphor of the white Ferrari (signifying an expensive cocaine addiction) make this a standout track thematically. The narration is aware of the self-destruction, discusses how Base (a colloquialism for cocaine) “takes its toll on [Ocean] eventually, eventually,” and continues to explore the negative and debilitating side effects of drug addiction.
The last three tracks, “Seigfried,” “Godspeed,” and “Futura Free,” all continue the sleepy, etherial production that has been present throughout the album and build up to an outro of clips of conversations making up half of the latter song. Seeming to chronicle his life so far, it features teenagers asking schoolyard questions like “Alright, uh, what three supercars do you wish you had?” Additionally, the song includes the sounds of a group of kids spending time around town, possibly culminating in the beginning of the vices explored throughout the album.
Overall, the long-awaited followup to Channel Orange has a production style that is different enough to feel like an artistic evolution, but does not deviate so much that it becomes inaccessible. A fantastic album that explores some very dark and personal themes, as well as giving a very valid critique of certain aspects of pop culture, Blonde delivers some of Ocean’s best work so far and should be more than enough to keep the world on edge in anticipation for his next project.
Best Tracks: “White Ferrari,” “Solo,” “Solo (Reprise),” “Pink + White,” “Futura Free,” and “Self Control.”