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The Definitive "Blonde" Review [Frank Ocean]


"Endless" the visual album, Nikes Video, Blonde roll-out with two versions (he got two versions), one exclusive to the huge Boys Don't Cry magazine issue. Color me impressed. There are a literal plethora of reasons and I feel the need to address them all in detail. So much so because Mr. Ocean is now an Independent Artist following a much needed break up from his former label Def Jam. A label that did virtually nothing that they should've for his career. He even vocalized disdain while he still had a Twitter account. Aside from Channel Orange, features on The Life Of Pablo, an appearance at Madison Square Garden for YEEZY Season 3, and a few thoughtful Tumblr essays (photo+writings) Frank Ocean has been close to invisible. Since then Frank Ocean has become even more of a reclusive savant. He learned carpentry specifically to act out a beautiful Artistic vision in the form of a stairway to heaven. The end credits and final track to the visual album Endless were all the more beautiful because of the Minimalist Fibonacci sequencing. He even got the person who taught him how to build it to sign a non-disclosure agreement which he didn't abide to per evidence from a stranger's tweets. There's over 140 hours of footage that got boiled down to 45 minutes of genius.

Out of nowhere, the following night after Endless, he releases the "Nikes" video, the lead single to Blonde. It's touching. Respects to A$AP Yams, Pimp C, and Trayvon Martin are paid. A smattering of pleasure inducing textures and colors are beamed across svelte figures, both human and automobile. I'm transported to my own personal fantasies. "Thank God someone has real taste in the lime light." I think to myself.

Blonde releases soon after that and I'm barely done processing what was already available. Nikes being the lead track I was anticipating a strong follow up track, but didn't know I'd find myself shouting as I listened to the ending of Ivy. There were similar moments I had throughout my first listen. It was quite nice actually being impressed from something I had no expectations for given the length since his last solo effort. No expectations lead to no disappointments, but with that being said he's outdone himself. To say the least Blonde is on par with Channel Orange. It's a classic album that you can play front to back and is arranged thoughtfully. That's an objective opinion. My subjective opinion is that it's better. And that's saying it's perfect for what it is and how 2016 feels and sounds right now. That's to say overall Channel Orange was like a 9/10 and Blonde is a 10/10. It sounds more stripped down, free and personal. There's a bit less nuance and a bit more maturity and transparency even if the lyrics can be considered vague. I feel they're rather telling. But then again I have a knack for discerning cryptic rhetorical poetic devices. Here's an example, on "Good Guy" he talks about going to a gay bar with a guy in NY. Even if it didn't happen just like that it could've happened anywhere else with whoever else, male or female even. Like I said, things are nuanced, but it's deeply personal as any rational person could conclude. The emotion expressed on this album is drawn from experience. 4 years of life, soul, blood, sweat and tears got poured into this masterpiece.

I'll break away here to talk a little about the contents of the Boys Don't Cry magazine contents. The magazine dropped alongside Blonde at 4 pop up shops in NY, London, Chicago and LA. There's a poem from Kanye West about McDonald's. There's pictures of Frank's, A$AP Rocky's (who cameos in the Nikes video) and James Blake's internet browser history. Portraits of the Artist. Essays. A screenplay he wrote called Godspeed (also a track on the album). Interviews and conversations. Tyler The Creator wrote a lil' sum sum. Even more writing from various contributors. And cars. A lot of cars. That's just scratching the surface really and I imagine more issues of Boys Don't Cry being printed relatively soon.

Focusing back on Blonde, the standouts in the record include both Solo and Solo (Reprise), Nights, Self Control featuring Yung Lean, Close To You, White Ferrari, and of course my favorite Ivy. The simplicity of the line, "I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me" is sublime. Andre 3000 pierces the thoughts of so many Hip Hop enthusiasts on his excellent feature Solo (Reprise) which feels like a jab at Artist like Drake who don't write their own verses.That's legend shit following up his feature on Channel Orange to give us this little gem. Frank's got even more major players in the background of songs like "Pink + White" featuring Beyoncé and "Skyline To" featuring Kendrick Lamar. You have to listen hard, but they're there. On "Nights" the breakdown where Ocean repeats "I wanna see nirvana, I wanna die" is delivered so smoothly it beckons you put the track on repeat. This is the case with so many songs of this 17 track album, the only non songs being a snippet from his mother on "Be Yourself" warning of the dangers of drugs (which Ocean juxtaposes with his lyrics about his drug use) and an aside from Producer SebastiAn about a failed relationship due to his online neglect of his significant other's digital presence on "Facebook Story".
Tracks like "Sigfried" and "Pretty Sweet" sound distressed and desperate making this a really solid Love album. I really felt like I've been taken through the motions because it checks all the boxes from the roses to the rain.

Ending everything out is a wonderful serenade from Ocean backed by a Gospel power house Kim Burrell on "Godspeed" leading into what feels partly like a confession with the final track "Futura Free". Here he stands on a mountain top wrestling feelings of adequacy and unease. Who could blame him? There's a pedestal that was thrusted underneath him and people feel the need to hold him to this impossible standard when I don't think they could possibly fathom the pressure. This pressure crafted a diamond, that's for damn sure. A beautiful man with a beautiful soul who took his time to improve the quality of our lives with the gifts bestowed upon him. Thank you Frank Ocean.

Julian Roden