By Nick Michael
Illustration by Isabella Frescura
Frank Ocean’s newest studio album, Blonde, has been the subject of much controversy over the past few years, and understandably so. Ocean’s musical career has been a wild combination of celebrity and ambiguity. He first made a name for himself in 2011 with the mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, which was generally well-received. The very next year, Ocean’s musical influence reached a shimmering climax following the release of his brilliant debut studio album Channel Orange, on which he sang of unrequited love and social structure. However, despite his extreme popularity, it was soon after the release of Channel Orange that Frank Ocean, in essence, disappeared.
For the next few years, Ocean generally avoided the public eye. He deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts, severing two major communication networks between him and his fans. As the years went by, fans grew impatient, as they had received very little information about his upcoming album. Eventually, they even began to doubt if the project would be released at all. But Ocean finally calmed his fans’ anxiety over four years later with the release of Blonde. And as most Ocean fans would agree, it was well worth the wait.
Blonde kicks off with the single “Nikes,” which serves, among other things, as a critique of modern materialism. For the majority of the track, Ocean’s voice is distorted while backed up by slow, soothing synthesizer chords. Following “Nikes” is “Ivy,” a relatively fast-paced, nostalgic song that is easily one of the best on the album. Ocean sings of a relationship gone wrong, accompanied by a soft, echoed electric guitar.
Blonde takes a surprising turn on the fourth track “Be Yourself,” which is simply a voicemail from Ocean’s aunt, urging him not to use drugs or drink alcohol. However, on the very next track, “Solo,” Ocean reveals in the first line that he did not listen to her (“Hand me a towel I’m dirty dancing by myself/Gone off tabs of that acid”). “Solo” is easily the most powerful vocal performance on the project, as Ocean sings about his drug use (“It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire/Inhale, in hell, there’s heaven”). The rest of the album contains several other deeply personal songs, such as “Self Control” and “Nights,” in which Ocean discloses details of his past loves and experiences with drugs. In “Futura Free,” the nine-minute final track, he discusses the success he has achieved and several other aspects of his personal life.
The album is a whole is excellent, but not perfect. There are times when it feels a little too chaotic, such as on the track “Pretty Sweet,” which contains an unpleasant frenzy of strings, synthesizers and percussion. This makes the song feel musically disconnected with the rest of the album.
More than anything else, Blonde is a series of stories about Frank Ocean, and he opens up these stories to his listeners. The production across the entire album is soft yet strong, with sharp guitars and warm synthesizers supporting Ocean’s vocals. The project does fall short in some places, but these pitfalls are negligible compared to the strengths of this album. Although four years is a long time to wait, Frank Ocean fans should be nothing but pleased with what they’ve received in Blonde.