Album Review: Blonde by Frank Ocean

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Album Review: Blonde by Frank Ocean
The cover art features the name Blond while the official iTunes listing is Blonde. Ocean has used both spellings. (Genius.com)

By IRENE PANIS
Staff Writer

Following the success of his debut studio album channel ORANGE, many sat in anticipation waiting to see what Frank Ocean would do next. Would another album arrive that following year? His fans hoped so.

However, as months passed without word of any new music from Ocean, many grew impatient. And as months turned into years, some wondered if there would even be a second album at all. Their doubts were ultimately put to rest on August 20th, 2016: four years after channel ORANGE, Ocean released his second studio album, Blonde.

Whereas channel ORANGE had a mellow vibe that went hand-in-hand with the wistful melancholy of the entire album, Ocean seems to have taken a more pop-based route this time around with Blonde. The album’s lead single, “Nikes,” features an altered, high-pitched version of Ocean’s voice for most of the track. Throughout the song Ocean switches between singing and semi-rapping, all while criticizing the materialistic attitude of modern society.

Pop songs such as “Ivy” and “Self Control” stand out especially on the album. “Ivy” sees Ocean reminiscing on a past relationship, the pop-rock instrumental making the track sound like something out of a teen movie. Ocean’s vocals in this song are simple yet addicting. One listen to this track will have you singing, “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me,” for days.

“Self Control,” a personal favorite of mine, showcases Ocean’s vocal ability flawlessly by foregoing any alteration to his voice, leaving it stripped down and raw with emotion. The drawl of the lyrics paired with the charming guitar-based instrumental makes the song that much more irresistible. While both songs are hardly Top 40 material, R&B-loving Ocean fans and pop-lovers alike will find them hard to resist.

Another stand-out on the album is not a song, but an interlude. “Be Yourself” is a one and a half-minute long voicemail left by Rosie Watson, the mother of one of Ocean’s childhood friends. In the voicemail, Watson tells her child, “Don’t try to act like someone else. Be yourself. Be secure with yourself.”

Ocean seems to heed her message. Ever since coming out as bisexual in 2012, Ocean has not been shy about his sexuality in his music. Things are no different in this album. Following the interlude, some songs either hint at a male lover or outright state it. In “Skyline To,” he makes a subtle reference to the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, singing, “Making sweet love, taking time, ‘til God strikes us.” In “Good Guy,” Ocean addresses a man he went on a blind date with, saying, “Here’s to the gay bar you took me to.”

With hypnotic instrumentals, smooth vocals, and social commentary underneath the surface, Blonde is an album that gets better with each listen, and even has some people thinking that the four-year wait was worth it.

Blonde is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars and is available on iTunes for $9.99.

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