It's been a big weekend for Frank Ocean. As the clock rolled around to Friday, he dropped Endless (review here), a visual album experience that didn't quite cut it for me. Then came word that the long awaited Boys Don't Cry was still being released this weekend, and there was rejoice. The legend we were all waiting for was coming. And now it's here. Boys Don't Cry is now Blonde, and it's everything you could've wanted from Ocean.
2012's channel ORANGE was a critically acclaimed album, but there were many who thought Ocean was yet to achieve his full potential. He seems to have reached that point in Blonde. What ORANGE lacked that really sets the bar with this new record is purity. This whole album feels so natural that it can't be contested. It's basic in all of the best ways. It's not trying to go out of its way to be flashy or upfront; Blonde is fine being subdued and quiet - and for good reason.
The album's lyrics makes it feel very personal. It's not a typical pop record; instead of singing of love and fun, it's about the lessons Ocean has learned. The most down-to-earth track on the record is 'Godspeed'. The subtle track is, as Frank put it in a message released with the record, "a reimagined part of my boyhood." The song is sweet, and really reflects the story of his childhood, or rather, perhaps, what he wishes it would be. You can watch the scenes play through your mind as the verse reassures, "Wishing you Godspeed, glory / There will be mountains you won't move / Still I'll always be there for you / How I do / I let go of my claim on you, it's a free world / You look down on where you came from sometimes / But you'll have this place to call home, always." In his message, he continued, "Boys do cry, but I don't think I shed a tear for a good chunk of my teenage years. It's surprisingly my favorite part of life so far. Surprising, to me, because the current phase is what I was asking the cosmos for when I was a kid. Maybe that part had its rough stretches too, but in my rearview mirror it's getting small enough to convince myself it was all good. And really though... It's still all good." This album is like a thank you note to his experiences. He's thanking the hardships he faced for where he is today, and the next lesson he's learned is that it's okay to let go.
Every second of this record sounds like a reflection. Listen to the instrumental of 'Solo' - it feels so warm and genuine. The instrumentals on the record are an important part of what makes each track sound so welcoming. 'Good Guy' is a very barebones track; the one minute track is a sweet interlude featuring piano and Ocean singing about a relationship he wants back, but not in a selfish way. The way he delivers his vocals sounds very patient and understand, like he knows his time is yet to come. 'Self Control' is much the same, but instead of an interlude, it's a fully developed track. It's just as barebones at its core, with reverberating guitar supporting Ocean's vocals, at times pitched up to reflect a younger mindset. His voice sounds really smooth and pure on top of the underlying gospel and occasional orchestral swells that add character to the track. The end is a beautiful gospel of a thousand voices, Ocean's voice harmonizing with itself as the track fades out.
The vocals are what really make this record, though. Take 'White Ferrari' - it's heartbreaking how real this sounds. It starts as a slow moving synth track before becoming a stunning acoustic track with dozens of harmonies, and each voice sounds almost tortured in understanding. You can't describe this track's beauty in words. It's sounds too pure to even try and substantiate to words. Guests help bring this record a step further. Beyoncé lends her voice on 'Pink + White', and above the lovely flow of the instrumental, creates beautiful harmonies, with a fresh female voice giving the track some uniqueness among the rest. Kendrick Lamar accentuates some of Ocean's thoughts throughout 'Skyline To', not delivering a blistering verse but instead acts as a second supporter of the lyrics. The subdued percussion in the first verse is a fantastic touch, too. A lot of artists influenced him on this record, too. You can hear the bewildering and panicked sounds of David Bowie's Blackstar album in 'Pretty Sweet' before its quick paced beat makes it one of the more exciting tracks on the record. And Kanye West wrote a poem about McDonalds just for this album too, so there's even more inspiration.
This album isn't perfect, though. There are some weaker moments on the record, some that even translate to WTF moments. 'Be Yourself' is a minute of being scolded by your mother and cautioned against drugs - fitting in the scheme of things, but more of a joke at the start considering the album's message isn't exactly clear at that point in the record. 'Facebook Story' is equally as strange, a German man telling a story of an awkward encounter involving Facebook. As genuine as the record is, it doesn't exactly have many areas where it'll grab you. Each song is pure in its own right, but aforementioned tracks have something more to them that separate them from the rest. Lots of average tracks make up the meat of the album - everything has something going for it, but nothing that makes them stand out.
Blonde is everything Frank Ocean fans could've wanted and more. It's not trying to be anything it isn't. It has moments of intensity and moments that are quiet and personal. It's the story of a lifetime, and the lessons that came with it. The long wait was well worth it. Frank Ocean has discovered himself, and he made the album he was destined to make. Blonde is a beautiful record.
Favorite Tracks: White Ferrari, Self Control, Pink + White
Least Favorite Tracks: Be Yourself, Facebook Story, Close To You
Rating: 78 / 100