It wasn’t too long ago when I had given up all hope on a new Frank Ocean album. I lamented to myself while listening to Channel Orange, while the last flickering bit of hope I had for Frank’s return died. But alas, after five years of adamant waiting and countless memes on Twitter, the world finally saw the release of a new Frank Ocean album. Shortly after the experimental ENDLESS project graced his website, we we’re given a new full length album: Blonde. The album features a wide and almost obscure array of contributing artists, ranging from Yung Lean to Kim Burrell, and showcases an equally diverse set of genres.
The album attempts to blend elements of R’n’B with Grunge and Trap, while also using various post-production effects and pitch shifting in order to convey a story, similar to what is heard throughout Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. The album’s intro track “Nikes” begins exactly in this fashion, with a high pitched Ocean singing over a largely atmospheric and delayed but prominent drums. Although I can appreciate certain moments in the song, I find that the production is a little thin and not as climactic as I would want it to be, in both the melody and production. I found the following track “Ivy” to be equally as lackluster, with the production being limited and the melody being very middle-of-the-road.
However, the feeling of being let down immediately changed upon hearing “Pink+White”. This song features impressive lyricism and vocals from Ocean, which sit beautifully atop the lush and detailed production. The wide and open pads and Beyonce’s backing vocals compliment the thumping bass and drums, all of which can be credited to Pharrell Williams and Tyler, The Creator, the producers of this track. After the transitional “Be Yourself”, begins the song “Solo”, another early highlight on this record. This song is essentially everything that was left to be desired in the first two songs of the album. While the composition and production were simple and minimal, they didn’t run thin after the two-minute mark of the song. It also features a much stronger melody and vocal performance, which helps to ground the song. The same can be said for the following track “Skyline To”, which offers some very strong lyricism from Ocean and track contributor Kendrick Lamar, with very rich harmonies to accompany them.
Regardless of these highlights, the downfalls of this album become pretty hard to ignore. While the second half of this album contains various highlights, such as Andre 3000’s “Solo (Reprise)” feature and the pretty impressive vocal performance on “White Ferrari”, this album suffers from a repeated sense of lethargism. Songs “Good to You” and “Seigfried” were amongst the weakest of the bunch, both of which I found to be pedantic and borderline difficult to sit through. They lacked the wide soundscape and momentum that the better tracks exhibited. While the vocals do impress me at times throughout this half of the album, vocals are only a fraction of what’s to be loved about Frank Ocean. These lesser songs lack the cohesiveness of the better ones, but these weaker songs aren’t the worst this album gets. The track “Facebook Story” is perhaps the worst piece on this album, mainly because of the exhausted rhetoric of real life being more important than Facebook. Unless you’ve ranted about Pokemon Go to your blogspot subscribers in the past 24 hours, I think it’s safe to say you won’t find this track of any use.
While this album contained its highlights, I can only feel that it ultimately succumbed to hype. In Ocean’s defense, you reach an incredibly high bar when you leave an album in the air for five years. To match that expectation would require you to put out a record and have it instantly become a classic. My only real bone to pick with this album is that it showed songs that had the potential to make this the best album of the year. Its highlights were unbelievably high, but that level reached just couldn’t be continued throughout the length of this album. It was more of a sprint than it was a marathon, and if it had done the latter, it could’ve easily been amongst the greatest albums in music history.
RATING: 5 ½ /10
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman