Four years ago, Frank Ocean dropped “Channel Orange”, a monumental album that synthesized poetic lyrics with futuristic beats. The genre-bending ode to young adulthood hit a new level of success.
Then, Ocean disappeared.
After four years of silence, rumors of a new album began to circulate. Release dates were promised. But those dates were met with more silence. Fans waited. And waited.
On August 20, their prayers were answered. Ocean released his second studio album and nearly everyone was listening.
“Blonde” opens with “Nikes.” The simple beat kicks in accompanied with an overly autotuned Ocean singing of childish desire and modern greed. As a mark of wealth and “making it,” shoes have been a reocurring image for rappers and R&B singers remarking on their underprivileged childhoods, especially in relation to their new lavish lifestyles.
But he takes the image of “Nikes” to the next level. The shoes mark what people want from him. A trivial indication of fortune when compared to lives taken by similar sins. During the song, Ocean sends condolences to two of his main musical influences, A$AP [Yams] and Pimp C, along with Trayvon Martin.
Ocean even mentions his physical resemblance to Martin, and to grasp the startling fact that it could have been him.
This is the moment where Blonde becomes different. While other recent albums like Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” speak out explicitly against police brutality, “Blonde” takes a subtle approach.
The slight realization that Trayvon looks like him, and could even be him, is an honest account of the seemingly indirect effects of the Black Lives Matter movement, reminding listeners that no one goes unaffected.
Right away, “Blonde” attempts to uncover the future with a nostalgia for the past. His songs remember first loves, getting into trouble, and experimenting with drugs (he also dives into what happens when you mix all three).
The albums inherent use of auto-tune becomes a conscious addition in nearly every song, resembling Kanye West’s 2010 (“My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy”). Both albums use autotune as a voice of sin and truth. It’s an almost inhuman perspective used as subconscious messages never deliberately stated.
The album deliberately uses a lack of music to convey messages, too. “Be Yourself” is a mother reminding her child of the dangers of drugs. The voicemail is left by a woman named Rosie Watson, the mother of one of Ocean’s childhood friends.
Watson was featured on a similar voicemail in “Channel Orange”, in which she warns of the dangers of prioritizing money. “Facebook Story” tells the story of a relationship ruined by technology. The messages are subtle forewarnings of more modern idealizations of sin.
In a miscellaneous strew of thoughts battling thoughts of life and death with quickening beats, “Pretty Sweet,” brings the album to pure chaos. It mellows out in a melancholy “White Ferrari,” which is an account of loss due to ignorance and sheer inexperience.
The song offers potentials of being together in another dimension, a heart breaking resolve for Ocean’s vulnerability.
That vulnerability is then denounced in “Godspeed,” which speaks to the lack of validity of male emotion, especially as dealt with throughout Ocean’s childhood. The revival of gospel-esque music adds a religious dimension to the album, either an ode to childhood rituals or more reasoning in Ocean’s philosophic exploration of past, present, and future. It adds anelement of a potential higher power that’s present throughout the entire album.
Any doubts of the album’s comparison to its predecessor are put to rest with “Futura Free,” Ocean’s final song. The song’s brilliance is encapsulated by an honest account of Ocean’s success, paired with his paranoia of being used for fame or objectified by his success.
He wrestles with fears tamed by his accomplishments. He attempts to make peace. It’s emotional and thought-provoking. It brings personal importance to the album.
Then it ends, but it isn’t over. Following a silent interlude, an interview with Ocean’s younger brother, Ryan, is played. Ryan, cusping adolescence, confirms Ocean’s earlier nostalgia. Ryan speaks on desired superpowers and is interrupted once his answers become dark.
Confused listeners face one final question before the album really ends: “How far is a light year?” It’s a final testament to Ocean’s future dilemma.
“Blonde” may not bring the advanced production that made “Channel Orange” such a success, but it brings realness. The subtle jabs at personal struggles make the album relatable, while providing an honest account of one man wrestling the compromising godliness and sin of his fame.