Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry (Endless + Blonde)
What a long time coming.
4 years ago I was in year 11, getting over Gangnam Style and getting into what was about to become the most critically-acclaimed album of our generation: Channel Orange. Since then, Frank Ocean has teased a sophomore again and again, toying with our emotions like that cheating boyfriend who we keep taking back, because he’s a “changed man”. But now that we have the goods (that is - TWO PROJECTS), let’s see how they hold up.
Out of nowhere, Endless dropped on Friday as an Apple Music exclusive. Confused AF, fans around the world freaked out, purchased the streaming service and tried to work out what was going on. Containing 18 (relatively) new tracks, it wasn’t clear if this album/video/thingy was the Frank Ocean follow-up, an album teaser or just a collage of demos in the background of a boring but ~artsy~ livestream. In the context of Blonde’s release yesterday, it is perhaps best to think of Endless as not his sophomore effort, but instead a piece of art that encapsulates the endless (lol) wait that fans have suffered through.
The video opens with a real-time, black and white shot of an industrial space, reminiscent of the promotional cock-tease that came weeks before. Layered over Ocean’s angelic vocals on 'At Your Best (You Are Love)', a track that was previously released in 2015, the self-directed footage indicated that we were embarking on a journey from where we last left him. With fuller and heavier production, this opening number paved the way for a darker, more experimental collection of songs from Ocean. If one thing was for sure, he had changed.
Embracing less-refined instrumentation, the tracks on Endless prove positive of Ocean’s new artistic direction. With help from producers James Blake and Arca, Frank had undoubtedly mastered the art of being weird as he manages to create ethereal, spacious and warped tracks that you can simultaneously sleep, dance and get high to. Backed by an 80s-inspired-yet-still-modern disco beat, the closing number on this project, ‘Higgs’, leaves the spectator on a weird note. As an omnipresent voice barks "With this Apple appliance… blurring the line between still and motion pictures”, Frank comments on the way that we have embraced the digital era, framing Apple as a powerful global influencer, and more importantly, naming the platform in which we will receive his next LP. Given the randomness of the project, fans were left with merely a gut-feeling of something more; agitated and excited, we waited…
Voila! The weekend had come. But more importantly, after the amuse bouche that was the phenomenal ‘Nikes’ video, the main course had arrived onto the music streaming scene. Blonde was here, and it was about to fuck shit up.
‘Nikes’ begins this project on a near-perfect foot with Frank bringing back classic soul with a modern twist. The track establishes this new record as one that was going to experiment with trap-flavoured beats as well as Kendrick-style vocal manipulation. With light auto-tune for a bit of an edgy effect, ‘Nikes’ is an easy contender for one of the best singles of 2016.
Given the writing credits on every single track of the album (most of the time he’s the only writer), this LP is wholeheartedly about the world of Ocean. In a similar fashion to Beyoncé’s fifth studio album, the hour-long sophomore provides the listener with beautiful, deeply layered personal poetry. Except the difference is, here, it’s mixed in with some sexy guitar hooks.
Just when you thought you would never see the summery vibes of his 2012 debut again, they’re injected into this project almost straight away. The second track on this album, ‘Ivy’, is the first time we hear an unaffected Frank vocal as he screams about a relationship gone wrong. The tracks that follow illustrate the stream-of-consciousness of a youthful Frank, delving into the intricacies of growing up and past lovers, all with the help of backing vocals from Beyoncé (yeah, I know right?). The clean instrumental on ‘Ivy’ continues through to the organ piano on ‘Solo’, to provide you with that nostalgic Ocean sound you never knew you missed. What happened to that experimental guy we got on Friday? Ah well, it doesn’t matter.
Blonde is an incredible collection of a more mature sound from Frank Ocean. Whilst Endless seemed to experiment with darker and weirder synths, Blonde embraces refined instruments against the storytelling of personal episodes from the Life of Frank. Definitely worth the wait.
But see, here’s the thing…
Channel Orange was a perfect album. It took influences from an array of genres, creating timeless tracks in an incredibly coherent manner. But it was much more than this. Richly embedded with samples, references, thematic concerns and more, the album was backed by the world of cinema – something so personal to Ocean himself. This meant that whenever he got passionate, you followed him because you understood his world too (you know – unless you never went to the movies or something). For this reason, Frank Ocean was doomed from the start. Whilst Blonde brings the quality of the first LP to the table and sometimes even betters it, it’s hard to beat a concept album with solely the concept of the self.
No this album is not better than Channel Orange, but that’s okay. Despite being only on his second album, Frank Ocean has proven himself to being one of the most important artists of this generation with his poetic lyricism, his talents as an all-rounder musician and incredible vocal ability. So will he fall into the sophomore album trap? Fuck no. Frank Ocean is here to stay whether you like it or not.
Highlights: 'Nikes', 'Pink + White', 'Solo', 'White Ferrari'
Lowlights: 'Be Yourself (A.K.A: Not Just Money 2.0)'