Frank Ocean
Blonde


5.0
classic

Review

by Alex Dansereau CONTRIBUTOR (32 Reviews)
August 26th, 2016 | 730 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: All you want is Nikes... but the real ones.

Most contemporary musical artists will do damn near anything to chase - and then maintain - relevance. In an industry of declining record sales and infinite musical choices a click away, major singers and bands are prone to hawk their product and brand incessantly across social media, corporate promotions, and ad campaigns. The fear of overexposure has been replaced by the fear of being forgotten entirely, and artists have reacted by shoving themselves in their audience’s face to the point of exasperation and passivity.

It’s safe to say at this point that Frank Ocean is not like most artists today. In the four years preceding the release of Blonde, Frank drifted steadily further from the spotlight, hiding himself away in the studio and avoiding nearly all social media, and virtually any public appearances - musical or otherwise. Frank’s sabbatical from public life shot expectations into the stratosphere for his follow-up to Channel Orange, and after a protracted and unorthodox rollout, one of the key themes of listening to Blonde is how it twists and subverts those very expectations to create a sparse, insular masterpiece.

As an opener, “Nikes” is both a promise and an affirmation. By beginning his long-awaited follow-up with three minutes of dramatically pitched-up vocals, Frank sends an immediate message that the album to follow was made on his own terms, and he is not beholden artistically to anything other than his own vision. The song shouts out the late A$AP Yams and Pimp C, who both died of drug overdoses including codeine - and the beat itself is a chopped-and-screwed downtempo haze reminiscent of codeine-fueled works of many Southern rap artists. But the most poignant remembrance is the one that follows: “RIP Trayvon, that nigga look just like me” - one of the few times Blonde’s opaque reminiscences coalesce into a definitive social statement.

When Frank’s unaltered voice finally reveals itself in the final two minutes of “Nikes”, adorned with a gently strummed acoustic guitar, it is as if the drugged-out haze has been parted by the sun. “We’ll let you guys prophesy”, he sings, setting up Blonde’s recurring rumination on the passage of time, memory, and an uncertain future. “White Ferrari” is a double entendre, reminiscing on both a drug-addled car ride and the highs and lows of a past relationship. “Solo” switches from present to past tense, with the first verse recounting tales of youthful innocence, and the second verse looking back from a jaded, melancholy perspective. “Seigfried” is an existential crisis masquerading as a love song, with a reference to solar flares that could extinguish civilization - a reminder to live in the moment with a future that can’t be controlled.

These truths are revealed in a decidedly sparse manner, as Channel Orange’s expansive compositions are largely replaced by bare-bones arrangements, frequently consisting of little more than Frank’s voice and a single guitar. This sparsity is at first disarming, as it often seems upon first glance that these tracks could be home demos rather than professional studio recordings. Yet upon repeat listens, the power of this minimalism to reveal the underlying beauty in the songwriting becomes clear. Frank’s voice, as stunning and versatile as it has ever been, takes center stage throughout, and his lyrics cut through the guitar feedback with breathtaking emotional precision. As for the instrumentation itself, the dominance of guitars throughout Blonde gives the proceedings an indie rock edge rarely felt so strongly in R&B. A variety of studio collaborators, including Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, grace the record with diverse and subtle guitar work that perfectly fits each track. “Seigfried” is a particular standout, with a riff that feels straight out of classic rock ballads, pushed back in a haze of echo and reverb to appear as if broadcasting into the track from a distant stratosphere.

Perhaps most striking on Blonde is the way that the variety of musical collaborators who contributed rarely make their presence explicitly known. Rather, their contributions serve as a means of achieving Frank’s singular vision, from which the album never wavers. Kendrick Lamar’s only vocal contribution to “Skyline To” is a few softly spoken words in the background, and even Beyonce is limited to harmonizing with Frank at the end of “Pink + White”, contributing very little lead vocals of her own. Tellingly, the only true guest vocal feature on the entire album is in many ways the best summation of Frank Ocean’s approach to artistry. On “Solo (Reprise)”, Andre 3000’s rapid-fire verse ends with a biting dig at rappers who use ghostwriters:

“After 20 years in, I'm so naive

I was under the impression

That everyone wrote they own verses

It's comin' back different and yeah that *** hurts me
I'm hummin' and whistlin' to those not deserving

I've stumbled and lived every word

Was I working just way too hard?”


For Frank and Andre, who have “stumbled and lived every word” in their songs, pure artistic expression is its own reward. Both men have carved out careers filled with bursts of brilliant creativity and long absences, and have lived intensely private lives outside the spotlight. And now, Frank Ocean has created a modern masterpiece that can stand tall with the best works of Outkast and others, who pushed black music in bold, experimental new directions by refusing to conform or compromise their vision. Because he knows that pure artistry will always find an audience, and that while relevance is fleeting, the impact left by true visionaries can be everlasting.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
BlackMalachite
August 25th 2016


4985 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Good review, but fuck this album was inconsistent.

Digging: Palisades - Palisades

beachdude
Contributing Reviewer
August 25th 2016


834 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"Good review, but fuck this album was inconsistent."



What tracks did you like/not like man?

FreddieDelaney31
August 25th 2016


2413 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hell yeah a 5 review from staff as well, nice!

Digging: The xx - I See You

SnakeDelilah
August 25th 2016


17866 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

whoever 1'd this is a cop

TheSpaceMan
August 25th 2016


6939 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

nice review but just out of curiosity, do you prefer throwing the song lyrics in center spacing like that rather then using the html for quotes?

ScuroFantasma
August 26th 2016


8995 Comments


the BB code (HTML?) quote looks ugly imo


Digging: Dissection - Where Dead Angels Lie

Tunaboy45
August 26th 2016


13525 Comments


BB Code use is something of an art, but it has to be done right.

Futures
August 26th 2016


9079 Comments


snide doesn't like a popular album must be really good

AsleepInTheBack
August 26th 2016


2690 Comments


Whoo, another great review for this

guitarded_chuck
August 26th 2016


11208 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yeah another good review, i was gonna be pissed when the edgy staff came out with a 3.0 rating/review for this and took the default away from freddy but you did the album justice

TheSpaceMan
August 26th 2016


6939 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"the BB code (HTML?) quote looks ugly imo"



cool didn't realize this might be a common opinion

AnimalsAsSummit
August 26th 2016


2401 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I really hate the vocal style on this; idk what its called but lots of pop artist in 2016 tends to do it or something similar to it

Digging: Disordered - Documentaries of Disgust

TenSecondsToThink
August 26th 2016


1533 Comments


listened to this a lot the last 2 days but i'm still not sure if i like it #logic

PappyMason
August 26th 2016


5692 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Only heard this a couple of times - there's some really good moments, but there's others where he is just dicking around.

Ryus
August 26th 2016


13001 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

channel orange is better but oh man there are some great highlights here

teresadeohio
August 26th 2016


4 Comments


not ironic enough

BlackMalachite
August 26th 2016


4985 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"What tracks did you like/not like man?"



See here's the thing with this album; I liked parts of almost all the songs, but something happened in pretty much much all the songs that completely took me out of the moment. It was rather disappointing in that regard.



Only tracks I could listen to through and through and enjoy the entirety of were "Self Control" and "So Endless". Those two were pretty cool.

"Pink + White" is easily the worst track on here though hands down. Hard 1.5/5 for that one.

StarlessCore
August 26th 2016


4323 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

"not ironic enough







Even Bruno Mars is more avant garde than this







#PBR&B"







5.0 classic

Liturgy Aesthethica

Digging: Abigail - Blasphemy Night

IamMe90
August 26th 2016


16 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Great album I dunno about a 5 tho....

Rowan5215
Contributing Reviewer
August 26th 2016


37731 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@snide wtf is so endless



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