And so the wait is over, Frank Ocean’s new album formerly known as ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ is finally here and now it’s called ‘Blonde’, which just so happens to also be the name of a racing car company that the R&B singer owns.
“I had the time of my life making all of this. Thank you all,” Ocean wrote on Tumblr following the album’s release. “Especially those of you who never let me forget I had to finish. Which is basically every one of ya’ll. Haha. Love you,” he added.
While you take a listen, read our track-by-track, first listen impressions of ‘Blonde’.
The album’s lead single, released 24 hours before the new album followed. It’s only been a day but many fans will already regard it as classic Frank. In our review of the track, we wrote that it shows Ocean’s “adeptness at making pop music with a difference”, further labelling it as the best thing the singer has released since ‘Channel Orange”s central tour-de-force ‘Pyramids’.
Originally debuted live in Munich during 2013 (albeit as an early draft), ‘Ivy’ sees Frank mull over a failed relationship. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me,” he sings over a sparse backdrop. Unlike much of the instrumental-heavy taster album ‘Endless’, this track sees Ocean’s vocals clean-cut and coming to the fore as he spills his heart about “all the things I didn’t mean to say / I didn’t mean to do”. At its climax, Ocean’s falsetto begins to crackle as feedback cuts through, like a metaphor for the way he’s feeling.
‘Pink + White’ (featuring Beyoncé)
‘Pink + White’ flows like a summer’s breeze, having an almost tropical feel much like ‘Sweet Life’ from ‘Channel Orange’, this time depicting a more realistic outlook on life. Beyonce provides backing vocals for the closing verse but her presence is barely noticeable, which says a lot about Ocean’s self-confidence with this project. Imagine having Beyoncé on your track and not only managing to not be completely upstaged but deciding to not even utilise her properly. Just imagine.
This short skit – similar to ‘Channel Orange’s ‘Not Just Money‘ – sees Frank’s mother (of embarrassing her kids in Instagram videos fame) offering some maternal advice via a voicemail message. “Many college students have gone to college and gotten hooked on drugs, marijuana, and alcohol. Listen, stop trying to be somebody else. Don’t try to be someone else. Be yourself and know that that’s good enough,” she says, before ringing off with: “This is mom, call me, bye”. Preach, Mama Ocean.
If ‘Lost’ depicted the hedonism of life on the road then ‘Solo’ is its jaded aftermath. Gone are the “big full breasts” and “buttercream silk shirts” and in their place are the markings of a drugged-up haze and its subsequent comedown, as Ocean fails to heed his mother’s advice and tries not to end the night alone. “We don’t gotta be solo,” he croons to an organ-backdrop reminiscent of ‘Bad Religion’, elongating the latter word so it sounds more like “so low”.
‘Skyline To’ (featuring Kendrick Lamar)
If you thought Beyoncé’s feature earlier on was wasteful then you’re going to find this Kendrick one pretty pointless altogether, as the rapper chimes in to add emphasis to the odd word here and there, like “smoke” and “haze”. It works, just as long as you dispel your hopes for another proper team-up between the pair.
The first fully-blown love song on ‘Blonde’, ‘Self Control’ features additional vocals and guitar work from Austin Feinstein of the LA band Slow Hollows and opens with a pitched-up squawk of a rap before Ocean strips things back again and attempts to woo the object of his affection, his serenade sounding delicate and heart-wrenching.
A brief, lo-fi sketch of a piano ballad, ‘Good Guy’ leaves an emotional imprint more than any other on the record and does so less by what it actually says and more by allowing the imagination of the listener to take over. Split into two halves, the opening sees Ocean telling the tale of a blind date to a gay club with a more dominating man who “talks too much, more than I do” and sees it simply as “just a late night out”. The song then cuts to two men talking about not having “bitches no more” and getting their hearts “wrecked” by women. It’s a thoughtful look at two opposing facets of modern masculinity.
Continuing the late-night diary entry vibes, ‘Nights’ is split into two parts like the album’s previous track. Part one sees Ocean describing fragmented recent events, culminating in his need for “new beginnings” and to stop waking up when “the sun’s going down”. However, as we come to the second half, which is set to a more gripping beat, he’s already fallen back into old ways (“Every night fucks every day up / Every day patches the night up”).
‘Solo (Reprise)’ (featuring André 3000)
Frank takes a backseat on ‘Solo (Reprise)’, which sees Andre 3000 in full throttle mode, giving his take on the themes set up by the earlier corresponding track, ‘Solo’. The song also includes the most exciting instrumentation that we’ve heard since opener ‘Nikes’, as the laid-back keystrokes of jazzy lounge piano clash with jittering glitches.
‘Pretty Sweet’ throws you in the deep end, in media res-style, to what sounds like an Ocean soliloquy while trapped in a sandstorm. Soon a choral section kicks in as the beat picks up and races to a premature finish. A short but satisfying interlude.
‘Facebook Story’ (featuring SebastiAn)
A skit that sees Ed Banger producer SebastiAn recalling the time he was dumped by a girl because he wouldn’t accept her as a friend on Facebook. On paper it all sounds very silly, but on record comes across as quite poignant, touching upon the feelings of jealousy, intimacy and technophobia that Ocean expresses elsewhere on the record.
‘Close to You’
A short autotuned track that riffs off Stevie Wonder’s vocoder cover of ‘Close To You’ by The Carpenters, with the song’s familiar tune lingering under the surface like an earworm.
We heard rumours of this track back in November when producer A Trak tweeted “”Mark my words: in a few weeks u’ll hear a song called White Ferrari, I can’t tell u who it’s by but it’s the best thing u’ll hear this year.” A slow-burning, minimal ballad that makes reference to The Beatles‘ ‘Here, There And Everywhere’ and, just like with the work of John, Paul, George and Ringo, shows that sometimes great songwriting is enough to make a track. ‘White Ferrari’ sounds like your last car ride as summer comes to an end.
Another song first showcased live and since immortalised through grainy fan-shot footage, ‘Seigfried’ (a misspelling of the dragon-slaying Norse warrior Siegfried) sees Ocean lamenting feelings of isolation, his desire to run away and commit to the one he loves. It’s one of Frank’s most vulnerable moments on the record.
‘Godspeed’ (featuring Kim Burrell)
‘Godspeed’ is, as Frank himself puts it, a “reimagined part of my boyhood”, as he promises to “let go of my claim” on a former – possibly unrequited – love interest. Fans will speculate the subject as being that who influenced Ocean’s previous album ‘Channel Orange’ and his coming out. It’s impossible to say for sure, but either way ‘Godspeed’ is a beautiful ode that reminds us that the love we feel is each our own and doesn’t need another to reciprocate for it to be true.
The sprawling, nine-minute long ‘Futura Free’ brings the record to an end and does so with Ocean looking firmly back to the past, reflecting upon life before fame, before the time when emails from Jay Z would drop in his inbox. Back when he had a day job and Tyler, The Creator would sleep on his sofa. This is Frank staying true to himself and his belief in his art.
‘Blonde’, on first listen, isn’t the show-stopping, magnum-opus that many had expected or hoped for. Less immediate and meticulous than ‘Channel Orange’, it instead sees Ocean subtly grow as a songwriter, turning his focus inward as he abandons the character studies that formerly made up most of his lyrics for a mode that’s a lot more personal this time round. In this way, the album can be seen as a document of where Frank is right now as a person, a time capsule of the last four years. It’s apt that the record ends with a sound bite of a mundane interview and a private conversation with a friend, as this is how Ocean largely appears on the record: intimate yet inscrutable.