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Review: Frank Ocean – Blonde

Frank Oceans sophomore album released on August 20, 2016.
Frank Ocean’s sophomore album released on August 20, 2016.

One of 2016’s most anticipated albums has finally arrived. After four years of uncertainty, Frank Ocean returned on one of the last days of summer with his new album, Blonde.

Grammy Award-winning R&B singer and rapper, Frank Ocean, first made waves in 2012 when he released Channel Orange, his debut album, to incredibly large acclaim. Now, after a botched release in July of 2015, came a completely separate, 45 minute visual album called Endless two days before Blonde’s release. Endless may not have the same lasting appeal as Blonde, with many tracks either cut short or unfinished, but it makes sense to view it as a “work in progress.”

After all, the visual part of the visual album features Frank building a spiral staircase to completion, which many people watched him do beforehand, including myself, in his 18 day long live stream on his website.

If you’re going into Blonde expecting a true sequel to Channel Orange, you’ll be very disappointed, as is the case with many artist’s sophomore albums. Last year gave us Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece, To Pimp A Butterfly, which makes a sharp change in direction compared to his debut album, Good Kid M.A.A.D. City. We have to remember, a four year gap in between albums usually never happens in today’s pop music culture where even two years without any new music might make you irrelevant unless you’re someone like Adele or Taylor Swift. After all, last year’s graduating class was first listening to Channel Orange in the summer before their freshman year of high school, and they’re now listening to Blonde in the summer before their freshman year of college.

Does Blonde live up to the four year-hype? Well…

The album begins with “Nikes” which was dropped the night before the release of Blonde, via a very artistic, chaotic not-safe-for-work music video put on Apple Music and his website. On the surface, the song’s contents seem like nothing more than a track for partying, and the music video doesn’t help this case either. In reality, Frank talks about problems like greed, saying “Said she need a ring like Carmelo.” a great nod to NBA player Carmelo Anthony’s quest to win his first championship, as well as a great simile regarding people chasing after material possessions. All of this gets wrapped inside pitched up vocals from Frank which put me off at first, but now I couldn’t imagine the song without them.

Remember when I said four years can change an artist? The next track “Ivy” begins to show Blonde’s true colors. Instead of the hip-hop-inspired beats of “Thinkin Bout You” and “Super Rich Kids” or the electronic experimentation of “Pyramids,” we’re treated to spaced out electric guitars, which usually get reserved to an artist like John Mayer or Beach House. Despite this, Frank somehow blends in like a chameleon no matter what genre you throw at him. On the second half of “Ivy,” Frank shows how much his singing skills have grown, as he begins to hit high notes that haven’t been this exciting since Chris Brown burst on the scene in the 2000s.

On “Pink + White” produced by Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator, Frank joins forces with Beyoncé for the second time, although it might not be the huge collaboration we received with Superpower on her 2013 album, Beyoncé. On this track, Frank talks about his life as a child in New Orleans, Louisiana, before Hurricane Katrina caused him to move to Los Angeles and pursue music. Pharrell’s signature style of incredible summer tracks like Sweet Life on Channel Orange, shines through again as Beyoncé’s backing vocals seal the deal.

“Solo” has Frank firing at all cylinders, with stabbing organs playing while Frank talks to his love interest, saying “Forgot to tell you, gotta tell you how much I vibe with you,And we don’t gotta be solo.” Later in the same verse, he leaves this same love interest and says “Think we were better off solo.” Once again, this album features a noticeable increase in vocal strength as Frank sings the song’s chorus with a passion that’s been missing in modern R&B.

“Skyline To” focuses on one of Frank’s favorite topics, summer nights with loved ones, accompanied by more soft guitars and dreamy vocals reminiscent of the more sensual songs off Channel Orange like “Sierra Leone.” Also, Kendrick Lamar provides backup vocals, but like Beyoncé, they go almost completely unnoticed.

“Self Control” features more crooning and an incredible outro that pushes it to being one of the best songs on the album. “Good Guy” has Frank talking about a date he went on with another man over a subdued piano. It’s an interlude to the next track, more or less, but still pleasant nonetheless.

“Nights” might be the closest Frank gets to sounding like he did on his previous works. Halfway through the track, the tone switches from singing about “New beginnings” over more guitar, to quiet R&B about nightlife ruining the morning after. The two parts both combine to make one of the album’s best tracks

Incredible and reclusive rapper, André 3000 of Outkast fame, speed-raps over “Solo (Reprise)” as he uses the solo theme instead as “so low.” André has never shied from social commentary in his storied career, and this song makes no exception, with him saying “So low that I can admit,When I hear that another kid is shot by the popo it ain’t an event,No more.” Quite like Frank Ocean, André 3000 appears so infrequently that you have no other choice but to pay attention to what he says. I could spend hours gushing about André 3000 and Outkast — seriously though, if you haven’t listened to Aquemini or Stankonia yet, you haven’t truly lived– but I have to move on.

“Pretty Sweet” starts out with a cacophony of loud noises that eventually fade into an equally unnerving and beautiful harmony making this track easily the most surreal thing Frank has done. In the final minute, the song breaks into a uptempo drum beat that transitions into a chilling children’s chorus. Weird? Yes. Great? Yes.

“White Ferrari” might be the most laid-back song on Blonde, with seemingly not much more than an acoustic guitar and a beat machine. The song takes cues from The Beatles’ “Here, There And Everywhere,” which as a diehard Beatles fan, absolutely sold me on the song. Unlike most pop music today, this song isn’t supposed to be played in clubs or in huge festivals; “White Ferrari” will be played in coffee shops and around campfires for years to come.

“Seigfried” might be the most beautiful song we hear all year. First heard live in 2013, we finally get to hear a studio version do the song justice. We hear Frank at his most personal in a long time, saying “Maybe I’m a fool, Maybe I should move, And settle, two kids and a swimming pool, I’m not brave.”

“Godspeed,” Blonde’s farewell song, features some of the strongest vocals on the album, while “Futura Free” acts as a victory lap while he shows off how far he’s come in his career, saying “I used to work on my feet for 7 dollars a hour, Call my momma like momma, I ain’t making minimum wage momma, I’m on momma, I’m on, Now I’m making 400, 600, 800k momma, To stand on my feet momma.” It does a great job of bringing the ride to an end.

There will undoubtedly be people who don’t like this album simply because how different it appears compared to the rest of his discography. A lot has changed for Frank Ocean since 2012. Ever since he penned that heartfelt letter where he came out as bisexual, he’s now considered a pioneer for LGBT representation in music. Race issues have become more prominent than ever. Heck, R&B has been reaching peak popularity. Since 2012, countless artists like The Weeknd, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Roy Woods, DVSN, Anderson .Paak and plenty others have tried to fill the void that Frank left, but very few have been able to stick for long.

It doesn’t matter what his previous works sound like. It doesn’t matter whether he’s referencing relationships with a boy or a girl in his songs. Like all good works of art, Blonde not only stands up on it’s own, but the lyrics can be applied to all of our lives regardless of background.

10/10

BEST SONGS: NIKES, SOLO, NIGHTS, WHITE FERRARI, SEIGFRIED

WORST SONGS: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

GRANT’S RANKING: CONFIRMED FIRE ???

About the Contributor
Grant Baker
Grant Baker, The Rider Editor-in-Chief
I'm Grant Baker and I write for this website. I love serving God, watching football and listening to 2000s southern hip hop. Maybe not all of those at the same time. I don't know. Okay you know how hard it is to write one of these things? Pretty hard.
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