You might have heard - Frank Ocean released his album this weekend. Finally, years of waiting and months of false alarms crystallised into something real, something we can hold in our hands while breathing a sigh of relief. And yet, even though it’s here, in the world - a real, tangible entity at last - it’s still dripping with ambiguity. Is it called Blond? Or Blonde? Which one of the tracklistings is the correct one? What is he trying to say to us about gender and sexuality and aggression?
Upon its release, many critics rushed to be the first to have their two cents heard. Many fans did the same. They skimmed through its weird complexities, like someone who’s been starved consumes, ravenously, unquestioningly, any food that comes their way. Frank Ocean fans have always been rewarded for patience though, and patience is what Blond/Blonde demands. A few days into its release, as the dust starts to settle, some commentaries are emerging that feel thoughtful, and less surface. Here are some of the best.
The confusion over the spelling and track listing only adding to its intrigue
You’d have thought, in the four years it took to make this album, that they’d have had the time to clear up any confusion over things as trivial as spelling and track listing, right? Well, Rolling Stone thinks this lack of clarity is a good thing.
“A day later, pop-up stores opened across the country, stocked with copies of Ocean's Boys Don't Cry, a glossy zine full of poems, photos of hot cars and hot boys and, affixed to one of its pages, a CD containing an album calledBlonde. The title was stylized in accompanying art as the masculine blond — a grammatical tweak that gave the LP, intriguingly, two genders at once. Apple Music, meanwhile, unveiled a different Blonde, its tracklist featuring slight modifications. If all these twists and turns left observers feeling dizzy, well, isn't that exactly how Ocean wanted it?”
He uses his guest cameos carefully
Not everyone uses big star names to get their music more attention, or make it more accessible. Ocean, in fact, often uses them for the opposite effect - as The Verge explains.
“Current reigning champions like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar drop by, as does Brian Eno. But Ocean doesn’t use these guest spots to shine his singles into radio hits or brag about his famous friends. Their presence is often cursory. Lamar gets more words in than Beyoncé in "Skyline To," but his voice is still buried underneath Ocean’s own. Kendrick’s presence only adds flesh to Ocean’s thoughts, like a director’s background commentary or a one-man chorus in a Greek play.”
It might not be instantly accessible, but there are still hooks
The Guardian points out that - though there might not be any No.1 hits on Blond, it's still not short of a good hook.
“Under all the subtlety and still surfaces, there are actually hooks here – just not the needy, salesmanlike kind that wave at you, shouting; “Here I am, remember this song!” The melodies– not only on the swaying soul waltz of ‘Pink + White’, or the tick-tock melody of the conventional R&B sections of Night, but in the outer-space balladry of Siegfried and the future gospel crawl of the heartbreaking Godspeed – lodge very quickly in the memory and stay there.”
He uses his sexuality as a weapon
A few days before the release of Ocean’s debut solo album, Channel Orange, he posted an essay to Tumblr recalling the time, aged 19, that he first fell in love with a man. He wanted to reveal this memory, he said, because there were songs and lyrics on the album which spoke to a queer sexuality he had yet to publicly acknowledge. For a hip hop artist to speak on this was a groundbreaking thing, and Ocean’s emotional vulnerability paid off. On Blond/Blonde though, he cascades through sexually aggressive imagery aimed at both men and women. Rolling Stone explains why this is no bad thing.
“On ‘Good Guy’ he visits a "gay bar" on a blind date; on "Futura Free" he warns an antagonist, "I don't cut bitches no more, but your bitch my exception" — his sexuality isn't just a spectrum here, but a weapon. There's something radical about that, and it affirms Ocean's greatest strength: He refuses to be pinned down."
His voice might not be the world’s greatest, but his lyrical poeticism is second to none
Billboard doesn't think Ocean's voice is quite on a par with the likes of Miguel or Chris Brown in terms of originality and flare, but his turn of phrase more than makes up for it.
“For Ocean, words are his greatest weapon. He’s not a vocal powerhouse like Miguel. He’s not a dancing machine like Chris Brown. He’s not a funky, one-man-band like Anderson .Paak. But his ability to turn a phrase bests each of his contemporaries. “If you could fly then you'd feel south/ Up north's getting cold soon,” Frank sings on Blonde’s “Pink + White," where he thoughtfully compares a lover’s need for warmth in a relationship to a bird fleeing winter’s chill and heading to the tropics. This is what makes Ocean special."
It’s background music, but only if you want it to be
“Blonde makes for sensationally beautiful background music that can morph into a bizarre hodgepodge of disparate ideas when you concentrate on bringing it into the foreground.”