Frank Ocean - Blonde
Aug 22, 2016 (updated Aug 23, 2016)
95
Frank Ocean has returned to us after four years that felt like a lifetime. Some will surely find Blonde a disappointing follow-up to ChannelORANGE, which up until this weekend was still easily my favorite album of the decade. I will not say that Frank has topped ChannelORANGE, but he has given us another master-class in modern songwriting, a true heart-breaker that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his classic debut LP.

The thing to keep in mind is that Frank has gotten older, as we all have. I know my life today is very different from what it was in summer 2012, when I was cranking "Lost" and "Pyramids" and "Super Rich Kids" on my way to the beach. Frank's perspective on life seems to be very different too. Blonde is a sadder, weightier record by a singer who seems to have been both strengthened and humbled by the passing of time. You have to lean in closer to make out the lyrics on these songs. There are fewer hooks and more patiently unfolding melodies. No true bangers, just the steady pulse of a broken heart trying to heal.

ChannelORANGE was an album of story-telling, in the vein of the great singer-songwriters of the 70s. It showed Frank as an obsever, taking in the world around him and relating life through minute details and huge, open-hearted melodies. By contrast, Blonde is more introspective: its melodies are sneakier but no less heartfelt, its lyrics a dense arrangement of personal symbols and pained ruminations on growing up. This is an album about looking back on years filled with love and sex, drugs and cars, friends and family, and coming to grips with the person it has made you into. Frank Ocean used to give us character sketches, but Blonde is an autobiography. It succeeds because Frank Ocean is his own greatest character, and his own story is the one he's always been meant to tell.

And Frank has truly become someone special. His singing still overflows with the pathos and humanity that makes him a once-in-a-generation voice. His music sounds totally peerless and unbound by genre. Blonde makes room for singing and rapping, acoustic guitar and orchestral strings, breakbeats and church organs, but always sounds like Frank Ocean. And though the melodies here are not as immediate as those on ChannelORANGE, there are enough heart-stopping moments to convince you to take the journey with Frank. The tearful outro to "Self-Control," the hypnotic, shape-shifting "Nights," the entirety of "White Ferrari" - even on the first listen these songs are gripping, spine-tingling stand-outs. But every song has moments of power and beauty. With Frank Ocean, nothing ever feels formulaic or perfunctory. Everything comes from the heart.

With Blonde, Frank Ocean has made his second straight masterpiece, and reaffirmed his place as the most vital and emotionally generous singer-songwriter of his generation. His approach to music establishes a level of trust and intimacy with the listener that is unlike anything else in music today. Maybe it is because Frank is the same age as me (our birthdays are two months apart), but I feel as though I am growing up alongside him, his empathetic voice and lyrics making him a welcome companion on my own life journey. ChannelORANGE will always be an essential album for me, but after soaking in it all weekend, Blonde seems like an equal and perhaps greater achievement. Frank takes us deeper into his own world, lays his heart bare for us, pumps his own warm blood into our veins.
1 Comment
Aug 26, 2016
Couldn't agree more.
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