Frank Ocean Intrigues on Sophomore Album ‘Blonde’
Urban alternative musician Frank Ocean returns with his highly anticipated sophomore album, Blonde. He makes following up a masterpiece look easy.
After a four-year wait, the wait is over. Frank Ocean, one of the hottest names in urban music, returns with sophomore album Blonde out of the blue. The release of the Channel Orange follow-up has been speculated for a while, but finally, it materializes. Following up an album that won Grammys and was nominated for the coveted award for album of the year is tough. Ocean is more than up for the task. Blonde is brilliant, period.
“Nikes” initiates Blonde intriguingly. Throughout the first part of the song, Ocean’s vocals are drenched in autotune. Normally this might be a turn-off, but in this case, the effect is alluring. During the second half of the song, Ocean uses his natural voice sans autotune, quasi-rapping and singing. “Nikes” dabbles in materialism (“She said she need a ring like Carmelo”), provides shout outs and memorials (“RIP Trayvon, that n*gga look just like me”), and sex (“But if you need dick I got you and I yam from the line”).
“Ivy” starkly contrasts “Nikes.” Embracing an indie alternative rock/pop sound driven by guitar accompaniment, “Ivy” encompasses like, love, and breaking up. Ocean sounds gorgeous vocally, and truly “puts himself out there” towards the end, showcasing grit. Among key lyrics:
“I broke your heart last week / you’ll probably feel better by the weekend.”
“Pink + White” is set in six-eight meter, giving it a more soulful, true R&B sound. While Ocean remains the star, he’s assisted by big names – Pharrell Williams (production) and Beyoncé (background vocals). He references a past life and love experience, Hurricane Katrina, and a temporary “high.”
On “Be Yourself,” Ocean receives prudent advice from his mom. He doesn’t necessarily heed that advice on “Solo,” which references drugs and sex. Despite the fact that there are references to sex, Ocean makes it clear he enjoys being single, yet enjoying the perks of hooking up. Additionally, there’s insinuation to self-pleasure, even if he doesn’t explicitly cite it and even if it’s not the focal point of the record.
“Skyline To” plays extremely high, to say the least. Random, Ocean seems to be under the influence of drugs and sex. Numerous times he uses f*cking, clearly in reference to pleasure. On “Self Control,” he delivers the superb, lustful lyric, “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight.” Soulful throughout, despite wishing he’s the object of affection, he realizes he’s delusional.
“I came to visit cause you see me like a UFO.”
The lyric that stands out from interlude “Good Guy” is, “Here’s to the gay bar you took me to / it’s when I realized you talk too much, more than I do…” Like so much of Blonde, he recalls like, love, and lust that is temporary at best. Among the album’s most brilliant moments is two-part song “Nights,” one of the slickest productions.
“Can’t keep up a conversation / can’t nobody reach you / why your eyes well up? / Did you call me from a séance? / You are from my past life / hope you’re doing well bruh”
The past is the past in Ocean’s eyes…until the second part of the song, which recalls an Acura Legend, eating at Shoney’s, marijuana, and of course, sex.
“Solo (Reprise)” features André 3000 exclusively. Though it lasts only a minute, André 3000 is on autopilot. One of his best moments is shade towards younger rappers in the game:
“After 20 years in / I’m so naïve I was under the impression that everyone wrote / they own verses / it’s comin’ back different and yeah that shit hurts me.”
Some believe this lyric is specifically a shot at Drake.
“Pretty Sweet” is indeed pretty sweet, though initially in a cacophonous fashion. Clearly the oddest moment of Blonde, it’s oddity at its most brilliant and intriguing. “Facebook Story” is another interlude, as told by producer SebastiAn. Essentially, it’s about the dangers of social media, the internet, and technology – it can be detrimental, destroying true relationships.
“White Ferrari” and “Seigfried”
“Close to You” transforms a classic into a bold, alluring new creation. While the Bacharach/David classic is decipherable, it’s fragmented, electronically conceived, and a stark contrast. Bon Iver appears on the radiant “White Ferrari.” A pristine example of alternative fused with pop and urban cues, there’s clearly magic that permeates.
“Seigfried” is a poetic masterpiece – the crème de la crème when it comes to lyricism. From the start, Ocean impresses:
“The markings on your surface / your speckled face / flawed crystals hang from your ears / I couldn’t gauge your fears”
Notable is how vaguely Ocean approaches sexual preference here. The aforementioned characterization clearly seems to be in line with his bisexuality, as the description is applicable to either gender, or beyond.
Clearly, Ocean – or the character he plays – struggles with commitment, connections, and has deep thoughts. A truly vulnerable moment, what more can be said but awe-inspiring as Ocean exemplifies introspection flawlessly.
The gospel-infused “Godspeed” is as gorgeous as everything else gracing Blonde. The harmonic progression, in addition to the lyrics and spacey approach, truly amplify the grandness of the penultimate cut. An appearance from the ever-soulful Kim Burrell never hurts. “Futura Free” concludes reflectively, with Ocean referencing any number of topics. The final part of the song is an interview.
Ultimately, Frank Ocean outdoes himself on Blonde. Often, it is difficult to follow up an album as decorated as Channel Orange was. Ocean does so with “flying colors,” making it look easy. A different effort than Channel Orange, he does a fantastic job differentiating between the efforts. Blonde is easily among the best albums of 2016. It masterfully encompasses introspection, life, and love & sex.
Gems: “Nikes,” “Ivy,” “Pink + White,” “Solo,” “Nights” & “Seigfried”