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Frank Ocean ‘Blonde’ 1 Listen Album Review

Frank Ocean's long-awaited new studio album is his most adventurous project to date.
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No more speculation, rumors, or trolling—no more waiting, wishing, and hoping—no more wondering about when or if, Frank Ocean finally did it. 

He finally released an album. 

With all the elation over its arrival, the album's release also feels like a myth has been dispelled. Frank releasing Blonde is like discovering Bigfoot was just regular man with huge toes, that unicorns are nothing more than mutated horses, discovering Hogwarts is a school for special effects not witchcraft and wizardry - the red pill has been swallowed and the illusion is over.

There's no longer the thought of what it could be, simply what it is. Finally having the album comes with fear—the fear it will not match four years of high expectations. With Endless, the visual album, we had the luxury of knowing something else was coming, which allowed Endless to be like an appetizer, a warm-up, but now Blonde is here, the chef has finally served us a long-awaited main course.

I relate waiting for Blonde to the wait you will experience at a renowned restaurant where the line wraps around the building. Imagine the feeling of your ribs touching due to starvation, there’s nothing more you desire than an excellent feast; knowing a 5-star meal awaits your growling stomach is enough to pull through any minor suffering. So you wait, and for that reason the disappointment that comes with an unsatisfying dinner is devastating. Hunger can cause people to act irrational, the hunger for this Frank album is no different. His fans have been starving.  The demand he has created is a rare one, cult-like, only a few artists will ever be in this position. Unlike Detox and Outkast, Frank decided to give the people music to love, to hate, and to view critically. Emerging from the shadows killed his anonymity, he is no longer on Mount Olympus, but another mortal that’s among us. He can disappear again, this time the memes won’t follow.

Classic or trash, the debates are in full swing and they will likely continue. The same debates are still being had over Channel Orange, Blonde is no different. I believe the first listen of Blond/Blonde is very crucial. It is the listen that closes a chapter that’s been on-going for the last four years, and the beginning of a new one. For Frank, for fans, and for all the brilliant memes, jokes, and trolls that were made during the wait, it has been one hell of a ride.

Per usual, the 1-Listen review rules are still in place—no stopping, no rewinding, and no fast-forwarding. It’s a review that is about gut reaction, letting the fingers move faster than the mind. This will be a 1-Listen to remember and hopefully an album worth the wait.

1. "Nikes"

The production is heavy, spacey, I love this build-up. Feels like isolation. But not draped in darkness. The vocalist comes with a voice that’s heavily manipulated. A Carmelo and Othello reference, a simple rhyme scheme but only Frank would conjure such a juxtaposition. It’s a bit odd but soothing. Love the Trayvon line. The pitched vocals feel so alien as if he’s high off ganja and helium. Especially the high notes, they really sound high, like they’re being projected from a place you can’t reach without levitation. I love how the beat is getting more frantic and raw. A vocal switch, he sounds normal, I’m a fan of rapping Frank. I read an article comparing him to Andre 3000 stylistically, and I can see similarity. “We not in love, but I’ll make love to you,” that’s a Drake Facebook status waiting to be updated. This is already shaping up to be an emotional rollercoaster without a seatbelt.

2. "Ivy"

I like this subtle guitar strumming in the background. His vocals sound manipulated. A touch. I really need a moment to digest what he’s saying. The feeling is heavy acoustic, but I’m not completely drawn in. Almost waiting for this build-up to finally plunge me into the ocean, no pun intended. He sound so distant, like he’s singing to an old dying flame. Nostalgic Frank is my favorite Frank. His voice sounds strong, he wants to take your heart out of your chest with these high notes. OHHHH SHIT. That screech. This is painful. He sounds like Gollum from Lord of The Rings when he lost his precious. Sounds of destruction. Did he just throw the guitar? What the fuck just happened?

3. "Pink + White"

Sound transitioned as the studio was being destroyed. I’m still wondering about that screech, but this is a much warmer sound. Still a slow tempo but it sounds like a field of flowers. I like this. A soothing sound. The second verse is Frank flexing his use of imagery. I need these lyrics. The manipulation on his voice, the background vocals, the elegance of the production - so much happening but also very little.

4. "Be Yourself"

A woman's voice. Sounds like a voicemail. She's giving some pretty serious advice that sounds like it would be for a college student. Is this his mom? This sounds like a pep talk. No alcohol, no weed, or cocaine? Good advice mom. This is like something straight out the 80’s. Frank’s mom wasn’t fearing or loathing in Las Vegas. I always love to hear from the person who gave birth to the artist. Shout out Gloria Carter. 

5. "Solo"

WOOOO! Now this is Frank. The wordplay. Peep the wordplay. Woo this is good. His voice is too good for all the effects. A very simplistic chord progression and Frank rapping is all I could ask for. Hell and Heaven, bulls and matadors. Listen to this song— his flow, his imagery, his delivery, the notes he’s hitting—an instant keeper and the early favorite. Sadly this is coming to an end. The best four minutes of the album so far. 

6. "Skyline To"

Production is so stripped down. His voice is gliding across. “Summer is not long as it used to be,” a very adult revelation. I like his unconventional approach to the structure. A seamless transition from singing, to a rapping/talking kind of flow. He is doing some incredible things with his voice that feels so sudden and unexpected. You don’t know if he’s going to hit you with high notes or rap flows. I like this. I don't quite get it but I like it. 

7. "Self Control"

He’s back doing the alien-Kendrick-voice, but it's cool and compelling. Suddenly switched back to normal. Who is playing the guitar on this album? It’s the lead instrument in most of the production. Feel like I haven’t heard drums since "Nikes." This song seems to be about unrequited love. The longing of wanting someone. It’s beautiful. You can feel the lyrics are pouring out from somewhere deep. So many moments on this album feel like isolation like the beat wraps around his vocals and he’s in some distant universe of his own. Probably the one in his mind. I don’t know how I feel about this ending bridge. Feels overwhelming, but I think that’s the point. Frank is really out of his comfort zone and so am I as a listener. 

8. "Good Guy"

“You text nothing like you look,” this is a lyric that had to be written while doing a few tabs of acid. There has to be a reason for all the effects on his voice. It makes for an interesting tone since he isn’t recycling the same sound… fin.

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9. "Nights"

We got some drums with the acoustic guitar. I like this. There’s a bit of a bounce. Singing/rapping Frank has a way of telling stories without moving in a linear format. There’s no beginning or end, Frank's book is one that’s read from the middle. I love the production, it’s transformative and free. Frank has become a shapeshifter of a singer. You don’t know what his voice will do next. It reminds me of Young Thug in a way— free forming, free-flowing, unpredictable. The beat just went haywire, sounds you expect from a video game. Like if Galaga went bonkers. Another beat switch, Frank's voice changed, I like this. It matches the title. Frank flowing, the slow-tempo beat feels like cruising underneath the moon running away from all your problems.

10. "Solo (Reprise)"

André 3000! By now the entire internet has heard this verse but I haven't. I just know someone is going to catch a shot. André is rapping with an aggressive enthusiasm that I haven’t heard from him since I can’t even say. This flow is rapid, super fire, super sharp and he spitting with the force of a cannonball, with the explosiveness of a missile shot out of a rocket launcher, and it just ends. How do you just stop after all that? I need more! 

11. "Pretty Sweet"

We went from Andre 3000 sounding like he was ready to wage war against the entire world, to Frank singing like his face is melting. There is nothing “Pretty Sweet” about this song.  Frank wrote this after watching Stranger Things because it certainly sounds like music for the upside-down. HOLY SHIT BATMAN THE BEAT JUST DROPPED LIKE A POWERBOMB FROM THE BIG SHOW. This song makes absolutely no sense. Yeah, I don’t know. That was a rush.

12. "Facebook Story"

Sounds like a French man retelling the story of a woman who broke up with him because he didn’t add her to Facebook. Social media kills another potential love story.

13. "Close To You"

The album has reached peak experimental stage. Production has gone from minimum to harsh and brash. Frank’s voice is becoming more alien. There’s a sense of darkness. Like a sinking feeling. Another short song. This rollercoaster is off the tracks. 

14. "White Ferrari"

Say what you will about Frank, but I will fight with Obama about Frank never missing with the car songs. This is sounding like another home run. I’m gravitating toward the songs where his normal singing voice is at the forefront. It could be the regularity. Is he texting and driving in a Ferrari? I thought you can only make those kinds of risky decisions in a Camry. Yeah, this is by far one of his best vocal performances throughout the album. The acoustic guitar has been riding shotgun throughout the whole album. There was just an explosion of high notes, an eruption of feeling, that came from a chest. His voice is lower. I don’t like it. On this emotional rollercoaster we are back on the tracks but many loops. Many.

15. "Siegfried"

White noise with a touch of some piano playing. A strong voice, angelic, and warm. “I can’t relate to my peers, I rather live outside,” I feel like I’ve heard this before somewhere. When Frank delivers a beautiful ballad it’s simply gorgeous. He’s exhaling honesty and singing every word with a passion you can feel crawling up your skin. It just took a psychedelic twist, feels like a good acid trip just went sour. Another subtle change, even the transitions have transitioned. Spoken word Ocean. Despite some questionable spontaneous changes, this is one hell of a song. A keeper. A must revisit.

16. "Godspeed"

Spacey. Another production intro that feels like it’s building up to take us somewhere. Another powerful vocal performance. Background vocals. Also heavily manipulated. This has some abrupt switches. A woman’s voice. Sweet. The first feature to be heard since Andre, and Frank’s mom. Not sure about this one. 

17. "Futura Free"

Last song. Piano building up to heaven. Frank Ocean rapping, yes, yes. He’s talking to his mom. “I’m just a guy not a God.” I like this already! We really need a Frank Ocean full-length rap album. These are the bars we need. Ha, Frank just referenced how they’re looking for Pac. Who is they!? Khaled probably knows. The introspective lyricism is exactly what I wanted. Sounds like he’s freestyling now, random shoutouts to Hollygrove. Some kid voices. And then nothing. There are four minutes left…. is there a secret track? Is he really going to make me sit in silence for four minutes wondering!? Okay, a voice. Now a soft, and warm beat plays in the background. Based on the conversation it sounds like an interview is being conducted. The questions are clear but the answers are muddled. It’s like they tried to conduct this on a cassette player in a New York subway. Yeah… there’s nothing happening except for these soft keys playing as the wind blows over the vocals. And it’s over.

Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Frank Ocean’s Blonde

I can now say that I’ve heard Frank Ocean’s album, and I’m also at a loss for words. 

This feeling reminds me of my first time hearing TPAB—Kendrick’s unexpected, artistic leap into a completely different realm. Frank throws the listener into this new terrain, and we’re completely unaware of what will happen next, which gives the album a rush of uncertainty. There are also moments of familiarity, just like with TPAB, but mostly Blonde is Frank at his most adventurous, even more so than Endless.    

There’s a feeling of wonder that is left the moment the album ends. The desire to search for all the secrets that lay underneath the many layers. I’m not head-over-heels, but I’m not dissatisfied. Just like Endless, Frank returned with something unpredictable, unique, and fearless. There’s no stagnancy in his artistry, no formula in his kitchen. 

I’m looking forward to the next bite, to sit with this meal before deciding if I’m going to send it back to the kitchen. It’s been four years in the making; to treat it any other way would be no different than spitting on the chef’s spatula.

Respect the chef, respect the artist. 

By Yoh, aka Yoh Puddle, aka @Yoh31


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