No gimmicks, no massive production. Just beautiful songs with depth, feeling and passion.
Label: Boys Don’t Cry
Released: August 21st 2016
Blonde’ is the centrepiece of Frank Ocean’s multi-media high concept album release spanning 3 years of speculation and anticipation. As a main event though it’s understated and intimate. Less of a triumphant grand statement it’s more of an intimate portrait of Frank Ocean the artist and Frank Ocean the man himself.
It’s clear that Frank has poured his heart and his soul into the album. Every lyric, sample and sound bite has been carefully chosen and beautifully worded. The confessional nature of the words and the melodies suits the sparseness and dreaminess of the music. Many of the songs here are draped in a hazy, gauzy splendour. There are no beats, little rhythms and a complete absence of posturing or aggression. It’s a soft and tender whisper rather than a celebratory roar. The tone is set on ‘Ivy’. Here, Frank’s voice is pure and unadorned set against a lone phased electric guitar. It’s hugely simple and wonderfully effective. “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me,” sings Frank and that sort of heartfelt exploration of relationships and desires is key to ‘Blonde’s themes.
While the words are important there’s much to savour in the low-key yet bewitching music. A song like ‘Pink White’s’ jazzy, summer breeze lilt gains something with each listen. It takes a supreme talent to make a little go a long way.
There’s nothing overtly hit focused or radio friendly here. What you have instead is immaculate song writing and some deeply exquisite slow jams that are hugely affecting. It’s an album that invites you to immerse yourself in it. Highlights like the organ backed, gospel tinged lament ‘Solo’ or the guitar led ‘Self Control’ are quietly stunning pieces of music.
Much is made of the collaborators who feature on the album but in truth, they are merely there as subtle adornments to Frank’s creative vision. Perhaps it’s more of the spirit of Beyonce and Kendrick and Bowie and Kanye and the artistry that they possess which Frank is taking to another level with his own classily simple yet unique approach. Yes, the album is self-indulgent but it has to be that way. Artists like Frank Ocean only succeed when they are allowed to indulge all their passions and impulses. On ’Blonde’ Frank is taking those passions to a darker, more personal place. In turn, it reveals more about the man than we have ever known.
‘Blonde’ is a brave record. Not in the sense that it’s drastically inventive or dazzlingly revelatory. More in the sense that it’s one of the most acclaimed musicians on the planet laying himself and his artistic process bare. No gimmicks, no massive production. Just beautiful songs with depth, feeling and passion. Martyn Young