Over the past few days, ending four years of near-total silence, Frank Ocean dropped not one but two major projects: Endless, a “visual album” streaming exclusively on Apple Music, and Blonde, his second official studio album. Both works are dense, complicated, weird, and meaty. In other words, don’t trust anyone who claims to have a fully formed opinion about either just yet; they’re going to take some time to unpack.
But I’m not about to let a perfectly good hot take pass me by (I gotta eat)—so restricting my focus to just Blonde, here are a few details I can already say with confidence I L-O-V-E:
Look, after four years of anticipation, I wouldn’t have refused a new Frank Ocean album under the long-rumored title of Boys Don’t Cry. But it was a bad title. Not so much because The Cure has permanent claim to it — although I’d argue they do — but because Ocean already wrote the definitive “boys don’t cry” lyrics of the decade: the first verse of “Thinkin Bout You,” from 2012’s Channel Orange. (You know the one: “A tornado flew around my room before you came/Excuse the mess it made…”) To call his follow-up project Boys Don’t Cry would be winking overkill.
But Blonde is brilliant, especially in the context of the album’s cover. It’s evocative but ambiguous, sexy and sinister all at once. It’s also a sly subversion of gender: “blond,” as it’s spelled on the cover, traditionally refers to men; “blonde,” the official spelling on iTunes and in other marketing, is for women. Which is it supposed to be, really? I’ll bet Ocean never tells.
“Pink + White”
I loved Channel Orange almost immediately, but at the risk of sounding elitist, I’ve always been surprised so many other people did, too. With some notable exceptions — “Thinkin Bout You,” “Sweet Life,” “Super Rich Kids” — the songs on Channel Orange tended to prioritize atmosphere over hooks, ambience over structure. That ambience was pretty damn near flawless, of course, but still, these weren’t tracks engineered for radio play.
But Blonde makes Channel Orange sound like Thriller. Which is, at least so far, a little bit of a bummer for me. Ocean’s gift for texture hasn’t abandoned him, but I wish his continued experimentation didn’t always come at the expense of his knack for tight, traditional songwriting. Hell, even Channel Orange’s artiest track, “Pyramids,” was half a banger.
“Pink + White” seems the closest thing to an old-fashioned pop song on Blonde, so good thing it’s a great one: smooth, lilting, mellow, carried by Ocean’s ever-surreal lyrics (plus uncredited backing vocals from Beyoncé): “You kneel down to the dry land/Kiss the Earth that birthed you/Gave you tools just to stay alive/And make it up when the sun is ruined.” As a gateway drug to the rest of Blonde, it’ll do nicely.
When Ocean’s non-altered voice showed up three minutes into Blonde’s first track, “Nikes” — “We’ll let you guys prophesy” — I cheered, alone in my bedroom, like a damn fool. I can’t pretend to be an objective listener here. Give it a week and I’m sure I’ll love this one just as much as Channel Orange. Welcome back, Frank. You were missed.