REVIEW: Frank Ocean's Ambitious and Sophisticated 'Blonde'
  • MONDAY, AUGUST 22, 2016

  • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

RATING: 4.7/5 STARS Frank Ocean released his official follow up to Channel Orange during a time when most of his demographic was not around to listen: on a Saturday night in the middle of August. That right there is the first sign that shows Ocean is not interested in doing things traditionally. We can go even as far as to say that he has no interest in being a pop star -- it's just something we decided to label him as. It's no secret that Ocean has been wanting to explore other corners in the writing world by working on prose, magazines, and even novels. There aren't any big hooks on his new album, Blonde, but it doesn't mean he's not capable of writing big hooks. He's written for big names including Beyonce, James Blake, Justin Bieber, John Legend, Alicia Keys, and the list continues... So when he creates art for himself, he uses it as an opportunity to explore different mediums. Ocean took an ambitious leap with Blonde and he succeeded. People often put pressure on artists after they start to see success (something I probably will write a separate piece on in the future). Channel Orange was a freakish success, which some critics even referred to as an instant classic. Because of that, people can make an artist feel weird about their future. They can either make them feel as if their greatest success is most likely behind them or like they need to top their last project with something much bigger and better. But during all of this pressure we were creating, it seems like Ocean was not scared at all. He responded with grace and poise. Much like the cover that goes along with it, he responded with an album that exhibits movement, aesthetic, and emotion, clearly made meticulously and with ease. He responded with an ambitious sonic and lyrical experimentation, an exploration of his ability to tell stories. Most of the album is minimalistic, which many might not understand how challenging it actually is to stay minimal. While everyone is hyping him up to be the biggest pop star in the world, he chooses to stick to his vision. When his colleagues are trying to make the best beats with the biggest hooks--Drake with the aggressive "Back To Back," Kanye with the loud "Famous," even Kendrick with his heavy "Alright"--Ocean sticks to his own ideas. Somberness? We can't bump to that with our friends in the car! It's so uncalled for, but Ocean's ability to do this exemplifies an inspiring maturity, restraint, and sophistication. Ocean focuses heavily on lyrics throughout the entire record. This makes it feel as if it's poetry set to music, a stream of consciousness, authentic storytelling at its finest. In addition to lyrics, the entire album is surprisingly very guitar-driven as well. The second track "Ivy" features nothing but a surfy, Wavves-esque guitar drenched in tremolo and of course, Ocean's lyric-heavy vocals. That along with the following track, "Pink + White," (which features backing vocals from Beyonce) are the two tracks that most fans in need of something a little more accessible will like. As noted before, there aren't a ton of hooks on this record, but it's filled with stunning moments. The low key, wavering synth solo midway through "Skyline To," the layers of vocals singing "I know you gotta leave / Take down some summertime / Give up, just tonight," at the end of "Self Control," Andre 3000's intense verse on "Solo (Reprise)," the children's chorus at the end of "Pretty Sweet," and the repetition of "I'd do anything for you in the dark" in the glowy "Seigfried." "Nights" is another clear highlight, with its several changes and melodic recurrences. Is there another "Thinking About You" on this record? No, and you might not like it at first. It took Ocean about four years to make this record, so don't dismiss it at first listen. As a true perfectionist, he neatly arranged several different layers for you, the listener, to unfold. A great album is able to take you into the artist's world and grow alongside you, and Blonde does just that.
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