Reviews

Classic Album Review: Frank Ocean – Blonde

It’s Odd Future week and it’s also the two year anniversary of Frank Ocean’s Blonde. As you might know by now, all three of Viberant’s founding members love Frank Ocean, and they love Blonde. For the anniversary of this album we could just have one of us review it, we all wanted a piece of the pie, so here’s something different. Three people, three mini reviews, starting with Liam, then Ellis, then Callum’s.

Liam: I can’t go on all day here because you’ve got another two reviews to read about the album, probably by people who love the album that bit more than me. I’d rather cut to the chase and tell you what I love about this album and what this album means to me. Everyone in the world has tough times, having emotions is what makes you human. I struggle to name a single album that can draw so many different emotions as Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Memes aside, it took four long and painful years before we got to listen to this album, but it’s clear that Frank was hard at work for the duration. Everything on the album has a reason to be there, it flows like it’s an hour long trip. Production really was and still is next level and it showed Frank to have the highest musical IQ there is. Whether you love his insanely good vocals or you’re in it for his slick RnB production, there’s something for everyone on this record.

That musical IQ can be seen in spades throughout the track Nights, one of my highest highs on the record, and trust me there’s many. The layers to the expertise of the beat change are still probably not fully explored, but for it to happen so gracefully at the half way point of both the album and the song signifies to me how incredibly talented this man is. I said it’s one of my highest highs, but nothing tops the outro to Self Control. As I’ve mentioned before this album draws a variety of emotions, that’s never more apparent than on this outro as it’s simplistic nature manages to flood your very being, it can bring you to tears or have you singing along with it, it’s a song that will stand the test of time amongst the greatest songs to ever exist.

You want to know what’s crazy? On first listen this wasn’t an album I loved. I think there was so much to process from the second those vocals played on Nikes. The concept of the album blended with the hype of the album might have all been too much of a cluster for me at its earliest stages, but over time I began to comprehend what I was listening to and what I was feeling. I realised I was listening to and feeling a potential game changer, next thing you know the game has changed. There’s a new bar in music now and that bar is called Blonde.

I remember seeing Frank Ocean at Parklife in 2017. Blonde made up most of the set and my love of the album intensified after what was a surreal hour or so. Frank has that special ‘it factor’ about him. He comes around very rarely and changes the world when he does. He’s a genius of a man and Blonde is a legendary masterpiece years ahead of it’s time. It’s not just the best RnB album of 2016, not just the best album of 2016 or even one of the best albums ever. It is literally one of the best pieces of art ever that without question saved lives. Thank you Frank Ocean.

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Ellis: Two years ago the musical world had stood to the attention of a certain Frank Ocean. He had broadcast a livestream of him setting up for what looked like doing some flat-pack furniture installation. He then did an almost identical stream, but with music playing. That music was ‘Endless’, Frank’s first album since 2012’s ‘Channel Orange’. Fans felt that was enough, Frank didn’t. Posting on Tumblr, he revealed he had “two versions”, was another album on the way? Yes it was. That same weekend we were given ‘Blonde’.

Sonically, this album is an absolute journey. Clocking in at exactly an hour long, ‘Blonde’ is a voyage through an emotional rollercoaster of love, life, nature and neglect; the struggles coincide with the joy, the fear works hand in hand with the bravery. Frank Ocean takes leaps on this album that no other artist would dare to do; he dared to be unique, he was strong enough to accept his lows, proud enough to love who he is. ‘Blonde’ as a whole gives me the feeling of rejoice, holding your head up high and accepting things won’t be perfect all the time, but it’s the very nature of how you view yourself and how important it is to love yourself that really matters. That’s the undeniable message here, above all else, “be yourself and know that that is good enough.”

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Asking me what my favourite songs are on this album would be like asking me to pick my favourite family members or best friends, I am truly spoilt for choice and wouldn’t want to do a disservice on certain songs. There are obvious highlights in terms of pure, critically viewed music; the elegance and poise of ‘Self Control’, the haunting beauty of ‘Seigfried’ as Frank continues to fear the perception of his sexuality; it is that kind of vulnerability that made the world fall in love with Frank Ocean. ‘Nikes’ transcends space and time when you listen to it in a particular frame of mind, it has helped me escape from the rough and tumble of reality on many occasion; while ‘Pink & White’ has a stunning attitude, a finger snapping anthem with angelic vocals and slick production.

It’s a real cliche and somewhat unsurprising of me to say about this album, but it is close to faultless, I mean that too. I wouldn’t change a single second of this album, it has just been too impactful to me and I’m sure so many others to meddle with. Why would you alter greatness?

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Callum: Four years is an awfully long time in the music world- even longer when said world spends the whole time anticipating your next move with bated breath. Frank Ocean’s spectacular entrance into the spotlight with 2012’s Channel Orange left both fans and even Ocean’s contemporaries lusting for more, but lord knows they’d have to wait. Some might label him a sadist for this, but I think perfectionist is better fitting: Frank Ocean is an artist who is never satisfied until his work, down to the very minutiae, is as good as he knows he is capable of; the words ‘half’ and ‘measures’ simply don’t belong in his vocabulary. Several years, many rumoured release dates and countless memes passed by, taking us to the dwindling days of summer 2016, when Ocean finally returned with Endless. This visual album was impossible to digest straight away, however, as his full commercial follow-up, Blonde, was released the very next day. Typical.

As for how this album sounds, well, if you were expecting more of what you heard on Channel Orange, you’d be left disappointed: Blonde borrows more sonically from the quaint, ambient electronica pioneered by the likes of Brian Eno than it does from the forefathers of soul, as well as featuring some of the most minimalistic instrumentation you could possibly find in today’s mainstream music (barring minor aural quirks, ‘Ivy’ recruits only a tandem of guitars, whilst Ocean’s vocals on ‘Solo’ are supported exclusively by an organ). While this may seem jarring to anyone who was a fan of Frank prior to the release of Blonde, its hazy, futuristic soundscape binds perfectly with Ocean’s voice and songwriting, the latter being the focal point of this record.

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Frank Ocean’s instinctive ability to weave vivid imagery into his music has been apparent since the release of his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, but it’s with Blonde that this ability is fully realised. With each song comes a completely different, yet still amazingly intricate view into a past life, and I’m not just talking about Frank’s: Ocean’s affinity for nostalgia makes this record a universal experience that cajoles the listener into an hour long trip back to bygone days seen strictly through a rose-tinted lens. Whilst Ocean may appear at his most vulnerable point in this reflective state, he is undoubtedly at his best.

This record, laden in fresh sounds that will certainly be adopted by his peers in the near future, saw Frank Ocean become a trailblazer in pop music. Not only this, but Blonde also marked the end of a four year metamorphosis from incredibly gifted singer/songwriter, to a consummate virtuoso in his craft. Despite all of this, 2 years on, Blonde is still very much in its infancy in the grand scheme of things, and the full extent of its impact on the landscape of music is almost definitely yet to be seen, but if the way it has found its way into the hearts of so many music fans is anything to go by, then it deserves to be remembered for a long, long time.

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