After what felt like forever and a day, the wait for Frank Ocean’s follow-up album is over.
On August 1st, a video stream entitled Endless started up on his website, streamed via Apple Music. In typical Frank fashion, it was distant and confusing – the singer/songwriter could be seen cutting and putting together pieces of wood and metal, but he was a silhouette against a white backdrop, silent but steadily working.
After a small break in which Ocean fans thought all hope had been lost, the singer returned, this time littering the shimmering instrumental tracks with vocals and completing the visual album – something that is speculated to have been portraying the artist’s tiring working process. While Endless felt like a labour to watch at 45 minutes, the rest of the album rollout was swift, almost effortless – so much so that the singer was asleep when the album came out.
The album itself – from the rollout to the music, to the ‘Nikes’ video, and even the fact that it was an extremely prosperous independent release – is a stroke of unashamed, unadulterated genius. The aforementioned single makes a pointed reference to Trayvon Martin around its discussion of the pitfalls of consumerism, before diving into Ocean’s familiar territory of unrequited love, in-time with him taking centre stage in the video.
While the emotional highs and lows are as painfully beautiful as they were on ORANGE – particularly on ‘Ivy’ and ‘Siegfried’, which Ocean fans might remember from his 2013 tour – the mood and tone of several songs switch with Ocean’s fleeting thought. Centrepiece ‘Nights’, for example, has a shift exactly halfway through the album which supposedly celebrates Ocean’s duality; a man who is bi-sexual, feminine and masculine, as explored in the album’s title.
In songs like ‘Pink + White’, Ocean recreates the moments he seemingly wishes to hold onto forever, cruising down a freeway with the song’s muse he understands that he can’t control the way things change around him. Similarly to a few of the songs on Endless, he longs for the freedom of his youth “climb trees, Michael Jackson, it all ends here”, but in these moments of mental clarity, he can accept that they’re gone. In others, such with the vocal tantrum he has at the climax of ‘Ivy’, the opposite is true; the album is littered with references to drug use to reach that same point in ‘Solo’, ‘Skyline To’ and ‘Nights’.
Despite these attempts, Ocean reconciles with the fact that they have passed on the album’s, and potentially his own as an artist, emotional peak, ‘Siegfried’. “Speaking of Nirvana, it was there,” he says at the start of a hit-the-blunt-too-hard ramble about bliss and his mortality, which ends with Ocean quite literally alone and left in the dark.
Even with its alienating and, at times, overwhelming despair, Blonde is unmistakably different, diverse, and perplexing. Spilling over with different ideas and musings, it reinstates Ocean’s torch-bearer status and completely sets him apart from comparisons to his contemporaries, in a genre and label-defying artistic statement that has gradually become his MO.