After months of build-up, speculation and shrewd marketing, Frank Ocean’s long-awaited second studio album is here. Does it live up to the extravagant hype? Probably not. Does it matter? Again, probably not.
Ocean is something of an elusive character, carrying a limited media presence that mirrors the reticent nature of Prince. He feels the pain of social and political injustice just like Kendrick Lamar does, but his music remains deeply personal and highly reflective. He approaches works with craft and care, and though it regrettably follows the curiously prevalent trend of feeling out of focus and slightly discordant, Blond is no exception.
With its muted tone and severe lack of robust beats, it could most certainly be described as an ambient R&B record. It will prove underwhelming for some, and magnificent for others, whilst the rest of us settle for mild enjoyment with a degree of apathy. There are occasions where Ocean finds great power in simplicity, but not enough for Blond to be a complete triumph. Whilst the sparse nature of his songwriting takes considerable effort to consume over the hour-long duration, Ocean’s patient arrangements are commendable, if not exhausting. It shifts away from the obvious tropes found in popular music, and that can only be a positive thing in the long run.
The lyrics retain the intimacy found in Ocean’s earlier work, but veer away from the strong narratives found on Channel Orange in favour of an impulsive and fragmented approach. It feels sincere as a result, and often very touching, but not always engaging.
The bottom line is Blond isn’t as accomplished as Channel Orange, nor as infinitely listenable. The album flirts on indulgence but just about manages to stay grounded. It’s an account of slight thoughts, vague ideas, and delicate musings. As a pure display of raw and hasty emotion, Blond is naturally flawed — but its success can only set a progressive precedent.
7 out of 10
I haven’t been sure what to make of Blonde. It’s good weird, but it isn’t visionary. The album is some kind of high art hip hop, I guess? Cerebral autotuned soliloquies about Nike and Ferrari play off of cellophane dream soundscapes and Facebook anecdotes. Frank Ocean certainly isn’t beholden to anyone but himself, which I suppose is just as well, because whatever on earth it is he’s doing on Blonde is nothing if not intriguing. Often it’s affecting, though not always. His mystery meticulousness becomes its own thing to care about.
The production is top notch, a shiny mist. The piano in “Pink + White” is particularly lovely, like bursts of light. Ocean’s voice, in whatever form it takes, is a captivating central actor. “Self Control” in particular holds you in the palm of its hand. Unlike certain other artists we’ve reviewed recently, I believe most of Ocean’s mid-tempo oddities are considered, constructive creative choices — I just don’t always click with them. When he sings in “Seigfried” about ‘living in an idea in another man’s mind,’ he describes Blonde’s own character pretty well. It is an enigmatic vision, but one that transmits itself immaculately. It will be interesting to see how the record ages.
7 out of 10
Frank Ocean’s latest release has seen a lot of anticipation and hype over the last few weeks, with fuel added to the fire as its release date was continuously pushed back. Despite this, it seems as though Ocean has been working on a relatively low-key affair for the past few years. Blonde has reminded me of the work of Bon Iver and James Blake more than a couple of times during my time with it.
Twinkling, delicate guitar playing appears on a good portion of the tracklist, with Ocean providing soulful, sometimes breathy, sometimes multi-tracked vocals, particularly on “Ivy” and “White Ferrari”. Many tracks have a distinct lack of percussive rhythm, often without the simplest of beats, and are instead held up by strong instrumental rhythm. This mostly works well, and largely goes unnoticed. When a beat does arrive, it’s an interesting, refreshing peculiarity — a notable contrast to most of music in this genre.
My main issue that stops Blonde from being a great record is its passive, overly-relaxed nature, often passing by without making much of an impact. Lyrics match this sentiment, generally remaining inconsequential (though clearly sincere and personal), with a very familiar Beatles homage in “White Ferrari” making for a memorable lyrical moment. It’s a good listen, and there is definite experimentation when compared to his previous works, but listeners hoping for another Channel Orange may not find everything they hoped for.
7 out of 10