What do you say to fans and critics alike after four years of speculation and phantom release dates? Frank Ocean, the shadowy 28 year-old mastermind, has just the thing: “We’ll let you guys prophesy / We gon’ see the future first”. What an opening line. Although those are not Ocean’s first words literally, they represent his introductory address to his listeners. The chipmunkish pitch heard guiding the genesis of the album acts as an emotional placeholder: “These bitches want Nikes / They looking for a check / Tell ’em it ain’t likely”. Frank peels back the layers of his hiatal cocoon, emerging cool as can be. By commenting on society’s routine materialism in such a clever manner, Ocean instantly quenches our longing thirst. His initial bars are trendy and numb. We’ve been waiting four exhausting years for this album. He had to draw us in immediately. He quickly becomes relatable to audiences with varying levels of fame and taste. Instead of asking ourselves where he has been (an inquiry solely satisfied by captivating provision), Frank urges his spectators to ask where his music will take them.
The high-pitched voice distortion may overstay its welcome, but never does it sour Ocean’s sharp penmanship. As he references athletics, injustice, and Shakespearean plays side-by-side, Frank seduces our ears with the social commentary we want and the personal transparency we need from a contemporary artist. “Nikes” is the lone song on Blonde that directly stimulates our desire for being reminded of what is current. Blonde is an album for the introspective futurist. That is why “We’ll let you guys prophesy / We gon’ see the future first” is a perfect intro lyric. He severs the bond between artist and consumer momentarily to evoke self-examination. While we contemplate Frank and other celebrities’ next move, we are essentially stealing the present from our own grasp. What makes Frank Ocean’s artistry so unique is his humble defiance of celebrity culture. He’ll stay on our radar long enough for us to start talking. But once that chatter begins to boil, he vanishes.
All for good reason, though. A quiet Frank Ocean is a diligent Frank Ocean. He knew the expectations for this album were sky high. The most astounding aspect of Blonde is that it actually meets those expectations: a feat deemed nearly impossible considering the hyperbolic media antics of today. He has once again succeeded in creating his own world with his music. This time around, Ocean takes listeners by the hand, leading them through all of his deepest thoughts, prayers, and passions. One glaring difference between Blonde and channel ORANGE is song structure. On his major label debut, Frank pulled together a series of catchy hooks that helped channel ORANGE age as gracefully as a 1980’s Margaux or a present-day Jennifer Lopez. Blonde, on the other hand, feels much more loosely constructed. Songs such as “Ivy” and “Seigfried” feel like a lucid dream in which Frank speaks beauty and pain and love into existence at will. Ocean’s lyrics are precise and eloquent, allowing his musical arrangements to be as free and minimalist as humanly possible.
Only four of the 17 songs included in the digital version of Blonde contain a rhythmic beat. One of those being the jaw-dropping Solo (Reprise) that features rapid-fire narration from the one and only André 3000. And even then the video game-esque beat is brief (but very well placed). The strings, guitar strums, and spacey synths scattered throughout this album are always on-time and remarkably complementary. Despite its exclusion of a “Thinkin Bout You” type of hit record, Blonde is propelled by its rebellion of sonic tradition. The hooks appear sporadically, the verses anchor most of the songs, and the bridges occasionally are the most notable section in a track. With its stripped down production, Blonde is incapable of feeling dated. There are no timeline trends or genre specifications on this album. It somehow finds a way to sound digitally organic. Gorgeous, progressive, and dreamy, Blonde is a love story designed for this generation yet applicable to all.