Blonde, released on August 20, 2016, is the markedly anticipated second studio album by Frank Ocean, and came out one day after his surprise visual album Endless.
Before delving into the gorgeously desolate and personal chef-d'oeuvre that is Blonde, a brief discussion of the somewhat overlooked Endless is certainly warranted. Without a doubt, Endless is one of the rawest releases Ocean will ever have attached to his name, although that is not necessarily a criticism. From the beautifully unedited and passionately charged vocals of “Wither,” to the menacing flow Frank delivers over a solitary beat on “U-N-I-T-Y,” Endless has numerous strong points. Additionally, the hook on “Comme Des Garçons” is one of the catchier points of the album, and is an upbeat standout on an otherwise down-tempo, meandering release.
Although Endless is a fascinating journey through a collection of vignette-esque songs, its lack of focus and structure throughout is its Achilles heel. Perhaps its absence of concentration was intentional, but often there is not clear cohesion between tracks on this record, instead flowing from idea to idea without fully developing many of the concepts presented. Overall, Endless is a somewhat perplexing, minimalist collection of songs that presents a number of great ideas but does not fully expand upon them.
Blonde, on the other hand, has a higher level of focus throughout, and contains a couple central themes that create an incredibly genuine, personal, and cohesive album that repeatedly delves into the minimalist avant-garde that Endless showed flourishes of. On Blonde, Ocean repeatedly comes back to two themes: sexuality and youth.
Lines such as “It begins to blur, we get older/Summer’s not as long as it used to be” on the track “Skyline To” exemplify the idea of yearning for youth quite well, as Ocean is expressing a sentiment common among people as they age; that time seems to pass more rapidly as you progress through life, and that memories fade as the years pass.
The theme of sexuality, and a certain level of relationship analysis post-coming out manifests itself through tracks such as “Self-Control,” where Ocean discusses sexual impulses directed at a stranger, and how those impulses can cause a disregard for whether or not the encounter has any meaning. “Solo” takes a different perspective, discussing a custody battle between a father and mother, and is emblematic of the idea that the father wants to “fly solo.” Also, Andre 3000’s verse on “Solo (Reprise)” is outright spectacular.
Throughout Blonde, instrumentation is kept to a minimum, and the result is exquisite. Tracks such as “Siegfried” and “Solo” feature little more than Ocean’s expectedly stellar singing and piano, whereas “Nights” and “Nikes” feature a light beat coupled with the characteristically muted production of this album.
Ocean also touches on the avant-garde, which shows through on the slightly distorted and chaotic opening of “Pretty Sweet,” or via the disconcertingly pitch-shifted vocals that make up the first half of “Nikes.”
The slow pace of Blonde as whole does sometimes seem to bog it down, but not in a way that is significant enough to hurt the album. The pace is also somewhat disrupted by “Be Yourself,” but the track echoes certain sentiments expressed throughout the record, so its inclusion makes sense.
Unsurprisingly, Blonde lives up to the hype that preceded its release. This album is a focused, intimate, and delicate work that is easily on the same level as 2011’s highly heralded Channel Orange.
Favorite Tracks on Endless: "U-N-I-T-Y," "Commes Des Garçons"
Favorite Tracks on Blonde: "Solo," "Nights," "Seigfried"