A great deal has happened since July 10, 2012. It was a summer of great promise for the upstart Frank Ocean, who had just released a mixtape a year prior, “Nostalgia, Ultra,” to widespread acclaim. The mixtape showcased the subdued yet evocative vocal projections that would help solidify his debut album, “Channel Orange,” as an instant classic. After four long years and a slew of befuddling promotional art, including the visual album “Endless,” Ocean’s second album “Blonde was officially dropped on August 20th.
The album opens up with “Nikes,” the weakest track on the album. The song has an almost dreamy instrumental with its airy synthesizers and slow-paced 808-style drum beats. The lyrics are a critique of what Ocean perceives as rampant materialism, using the ubiquitous Nike logo as a metaphor for money and capital. Though I’m fond of the mellow instrumental, I just can’t enjoy the pitch-altered voice that morphs Frank’s silky vocals into a shrill chipmunk.
Despite a shaky start, the album does begin to deliver almost immediately afterward with the song “Ivy,” which sets the mood for the rest of the album with it’s stripped-back, minimalist sound. We hear watery guitar chords being strummed set the backdrop as Ocean muses about his past experiences with love and the mistakes he made during that tumultuous time.
“Pink + White” features production from Pharrell Williams and an uncredited vocal appearance from Beyonce while Frank once again gazes back into his past to reflect upon his growth and the experiences that helped shaped him.
In terms of songwriting, “Solo” may be the strongest on this album, with its plentiful use of double entendres. Ocean uses the word “solo” to indicate that he’s facing his problems alone and has reached a point where he is now “so low” that he must resort to other methods of treating himself. “Inhale, inhale there’s heaven” acts as an obvious play on the words “In hell, in hell there’s heaven,” which itself can be referring to the duality of nature, a major theme of the album. The album’s title itself is listed as “Blonde” which is feminine version of the noun ‘blond’, while the album’s cover has the title spelled “Blond” which is the masculine version of the noun.
The subsequent track, “Solo (Reprise),” features a bombastic performance from Outkast member Andre 3000, who is also listed a writer for both tracks. One might be also be surprised to see The Beatles are listed under the writing credits for “Siegfried” and “White Ferrari” along with the late Elliott Smith. While this may seem unusual, it’s not surprising considering the artistic direction taken on this album. The intricacies in the production of this album are more reminiscent of an experimental indie band than a commercial R&B singer, but Ocean has often displayed eccentric tastes before in his work.
Some other gems that especially stick out on this album are “Skyline To,” “Nights,” “Godspeed” and “Siegfried”.
Overall, “Blonde” is one of the year’s best albums, despite the occasional hiccups. The production here is great, the songwriting is as strong as ever and Frank Ocean delivers as strong of a vocal performance as he has yet. This album is essential for fans of “Channel Orange” and those wanting to step outside the box and enjoy more abstract music.