Volume 10, Issue 7
‘What the hell am I listening to?’
The was my initial reaction when I heard the first thirty seconds of Frank Ocean’s long-awaited sophomore studio album, Blonde.
‘I’ve been waiting four years to hear this, and now I’m listening to a chipmunk…’
The pitch-shifted opener Nikes, which sees Ocean brood about the materialistic trappings of the modern world, was an ambitious way to start off an album that had so much to live up to.
And, unfortunately, that ambition fell short of the mark. I can get around artistic experimentation as much as the next person (808s & Heartbreak fanboy here), but listening to a wailing chipmunk for more than three minutes doesn’t do it for me.
‘You’ve trolled us enough, Frank. Give me something here!’ was my next thought.
Thankfully, he delivered.
Atmospheric, emotive and stripped-back are the words that spring to mind when I listen to this album. And while it doesn’t have the same punch as Channel Orange or even Nostalgia, Ultra, there is still a lot to like about Ocean’s latest offering to the musical world.
Ivy is where the album picks up, with Ocean letting his full range of vocals out to play over a simple yet elegant guitar riff.
Things only get better from there as we are taken down a mellow yet for the most part engaging road, with the superstar guest list epitomising what Blonde is all about. The likes of Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé grace the album but in the faintest of ways, their features melding into the background of tracks; tracks that aren’t about fanfare or instant thrills, like the album itself.
The only time the project leaps out to grab the listener is when Andre 3000 jumps in just past the halfway point with Solo (Reprise). His hectic flow and cutting lyrics are a real highlight, and are yet another example of his prowess on the microphone.
The album as a whole is full of beautifully constructed instrumentals and poignant lyrics. Coupled with this is, of course, Ocean’s fantastic voice. The ease with which he changes octaves is something to be celebrated, and his falsetto has somehow gotten even better since his last album.
The artistic subtleties that we’ve come to expect from Ocean are another positive to take away, and they add even more intricacy to what is an already thought-provoking project.
Blonde is centred around duality. The spelling of ‘Blond’ on the cover even though the actual title is ‘Blonde’, the majestic beat switch at the exact halfway point of the album during the track Nights and the fact Ocean released this album alongside the visual project Endless all point to this. They are representative of Ocean’s own duality as a bisexual and his masculinity and femininity, with ‘blond’ considered the masculine form and ‘blonde’ the feminine form.
While admittedly the album can be too relaxed and drawn out at times, these intricacies, together with Ocean’s powerful lyrics, ensure it is stimulating enough to hold the listener’s attention.
Blonde is an extremely cohesive, elegant and pleasant project, and while it doesn’t have the same lustre or grandiose of Channel Orange, it is definitely worth checking out.
Favourite tracks: Ivy, Pink + White, Solo, Nights, Solo (Reprise), Futura Free
Pat Sexton is a second year JD student
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