Frank Ocean – Blonde Review 

Blonde – Frank Ocean

The silence. It consumed the R&B world for over four years. And just as the doubt surfaced that the silence would be never-ending, Frank Ocean released Blonde; an album that, despite its minimalism, speaks volumes.

Defining Frank Ocean is like defining life itself. Blonde explores every emotion we could ever experience. With hushed intensity, lightheaded instrumentalism snakes behind Ocean’s velvety vocals. The smooth, philosophical approach of channel ORANGE translates in his second LP, with a heavy minimalist slant. Many of the tracks have abandoned any percussion, which embodies the way Ocean has dropped all boundaries in terms of this album, heightened by his striking lyrics and desertion of R&B conventions. Stripping back the instruments accentuates Ocean’s flowing narration, but also provides a sense of spaciousness, giving both Frank and his listeners time to reflect on all the heady discussions. Despite the dizzy synths and distortion, profoundly exhibited in Ivy, there is an undeniable sense of hard-hitting reality zigzagging its way through this album. Ivy itself shatters the idea of love through naivety’s eyes. Skyline To faces how “summer’s not as long as it used to be”, and Futura Free demands a return to youth via a warp of vocals and synths, with only a piano to add some sanity. There’s also uncomfortable discrepancies between Be Yourself’s anti-substance abuse rant versus Solo’s cry for highs. Whereas the more traditional ‘music’ is emotionally moving, the spoken short tracks – the harsh instructional Be Yourself and outrageousness of Facebook Story that questions our use of social media – physically positions listeners and forces them into changing their actions or feelings. There is some solace, however, in tracks such as Siegfried, which fabricates a future for Ocean and his “two kids in the swimming pool” – possibly fathered by the potential love interests of Good Guy or Self-Control. Though the album mostly dwells in a longing for past euphoria and present hopelessness, Ocean signals a revival.

There are flashes of conventionality throughout the album. Pretty Sweet closes with a fast-tempo syncopated drum machine, whilst Solo (Reprise) features a stern rap from Andre 3000. Also, Ocean and the percussion of Close To You are glued together by helium-like backing vocals. Nights draws thoughts of travelling on the night tube, resting your head against the window as the train lurches along the track. And although this is when the city is meant to come to life, the lyrics sketch the troubles of inner city lives and solemn individual situations, embodied in the fierce electric guitar hook emerging from a smooth synths and an impressive vocal display from Ocean, before settling into a sombre piano-backed almost-rap that recalls the hardships of surviving in a low-paid job.

This is an album that you can pick apart again and again and find something new every time that adds to the incredible detail with which Blonde is laced. There is so much to commend Frank Ocean for with this album – the simply beautiful intricacies, hidden meanings and piercing minimalism just to name a few assets. It’s not very often you can term an R&B album quite charming, but then it’s not very often a talent like Frank Ocean arises.

Frank Ocean – Blonde: 9/10

By Eleanor Chivers

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