Blonde by Frank Ocean, track-by-track review
Frank Ocean’s debut album Channel Orange was released in the summer of 2012. He invited us into his young, naïve world as he navigated through fame, love, and discovery. He started his days on rooftops, spent them hanging out with super rich kids, and living a sweet life. He might have gotten lost along the way, found himself at the pyramid, and questioned his religion, but in the end, he was 24 years old and he had the whole wide world in his hands.
And he kept us in the dark of his enclosed palms for four years. We’re not the same people we were four years ago, and neither is Frank. In those four years, Frank has grown, just as his audience has. We used to bob our heads along listening to Frank croon about crack rock. Now, we shiver at how relatable it feels to hear him question sobriety, play records of a mother’s warning to stay away from drugs and the effects of becoming a weed head, and wrap himself in the beauty of feeling loved and the destruction that follows when a relationship crumbles.
We ain’t kids no more, and we’ll never be kids again.
When he opened his hands back up again, he welcomed us to a new, older world. This is where Channel Orange fades to black and Blonde emerges, Frank’s long-awaited (and that’s an understatement) sophomore album.
During my first listen of Blonde, I mostly couldn’t get over the fact that I was finally listening to Frank Ocean’s actual second album. I’ve written too many frustrated statuses every time a release date came and went so I needed time to process that this was the real deal.
‘Nike’ is the lead single and the first song on Blonde. Off the bat, Frank talks about something those who find fame and fortune experience often, and that’s people associating with you for the material gifts you can offer rather than you for you. This immediately sets the tone for a more mature Frank, one who’s not afraid to give a shout out to Trayvon Martin, the victim whose death spurred the social justice movement. It ends with Frank promising he’ll mean something to someone, even if he’s not who they want. “We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you/I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you.” Don’t we all want to be the one? So maybe that’s why Frank begins ‘Ivy’ above the clouds with “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me/The start of something new.” It’s about a relationship that’s beautiful at first but, similar to ivy, you’re drawn by the deep green plant, only to realize its touch poisons you. This may possibly be alluding to the same relationship Frank published in a letter on his Tumblr in 2012, which marked the first time he came out as bisexual.
If ‘Ivy’ was bringing you down, the upbeat production by Pharrell and subtle vocals from Beyoncé on ‘Pink + White’ attempts to bring you back up. In this standout track, Frank talks about what it’s like to be on top of the world as you’re shown love, but for as high as love can take you, it’s all downhill from there. After being shown love, knowing it’s going to be lost, Frank reminds you to ‘Be Yourself,’ an important clear, message that also brings a smile to your face because hearing a mom refer to someone who regularly uses marijuana as a “weed head” is just so mom. Alas, this is where the journey to sobriety begins.
The fifth track on the album, ‘Solo’ seems to be enjoying life on his own, but this song is also a play on being “so low” and the drugs are needed to get high again, which is an ironic juxtaposition to the previous track. Frank’s lyricism shines:
“It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire
Inhale, inhale there’s heaven
There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky
Inhale, in hell there’s heaven”
Inhale sounds like in hell; he assures you there’s heaven. Frank points to the sky then takes us to the skyline in ‘Skyline To.’ Frank paints the picture of passionate love ’Til God strikes us,’ most likely because homosexuality is immoral. Intermingled between the traces of love making, Frank discusses the passing of time, “That’s a pretty fucking fast year flew by,” and how quickly it’s beginning to move, “Summer’s not as long as it used to be,” a sentiment mostly everyone over the age of teen can relate to. Track number seven is “Self Control.” This is one of the songs that I began by noting Frank’s ability to capture feelings we’ve felt, and turn them into poetry. It begins when he makes small talk with a former lover, in the hopes that it turns into them spending another night together, “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight.” Alas, he doesn’t succeed. Frank might have channeled his previous relationship with model Willy Cartier who has signature long hair, then Frank croons “You cut your hair but you used to live a blinded life.” Then makes excuses, or more so, reasons why their relationship might not have worked, similar to what many couples experience: unshaking pasts and bad timing. Both parties might miss the other, according to my favorite line of the song “Now and then you miss it, sounds make you cry/Some nights you dance with tears in your eyes.” Nonetheless, nothing changes, and Frank doesn’t go home with his ex-lover. Instead, he asks him to:
“Keep a place for me, for me
I’ll sleep between y’all, it’s nothing
It’s nothing, it’s nothing
Keep a place for me, for me”
This leads into the outro where Frank’s past leaves him to be with someone else but Frank assures him. He echoes the line seven times, and they echo in your heart just as many times:
“I, I, I
Know you gotta leave, leave, leave
Take down some summer time
Give up, just tonight, night, night”
Then, Frank shares an anecdote about a date in New York. The ‘Good Guy’ who the song is named after sets Frank up with a man and they go on a date to a gay bar. Frank shares the unease he feels since he describes the man as talkative. Eventually, Frank realizes this won’t be going anywhere, “I know you don’t need me right now/And to you it’s just a late night out”–a sinking feeling that leaves you no choice but to accept it.
So you spend a ‘Night’ (Track 8 title) with your real friends and leave your past behind. After Frank leaves his past behind, the song has a beat change where Frank talks about no matter how hard he tries to escape the dark thoughts he has by smoking marijuana, “That’s a cheap vacation,” he can never reach Nirvana, and really forget it all–it’s every day and every night shit. This leads us into “Solo (Reprise)” AKA Andre 3000’s song where he praises the hard work he has put into perfecting his craft for the past 20 years (and rightfully so), and criticizes today’s top rapper’s tendency to take credit for ghostwriting.
”I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving
I’ve stumbled and lived every word
Was I working just way too hard?”
The reprise leads us into SebastiAn, a French producer, sharing his ‘Facebook Story.’ He shares how one of his relationships ended after he declined to accept his girlfriend’s Facebook request. She couldn’t accept his indifference to their virtual life, and he didn’t understand why she needed it when they were face-to-face. He remarks “It’s pure jealousy, it’s crazy.” And it makes you wonder, how many relationships have ended for the exact same reason?
In the 13th track, Frank covers Stevie Wonder’s cover of “Close to You” by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It’s a beautiful rendition of the song and is placed at a point in the album where Frank begins to accept the end of the relationship and begins to embrace the heart ache.
This is exemplified with every lyric of ‘White Ferrari,’ my favorite track on the album. Each lyric is pure poetry, each line illustrating the reason Frank Ocean is regarded as one of the greatest lyricists of our time and his achingly beautiful delivery solidifies his talent as a vocalist. This song is a, if not the, reason this album is a contender for album of the year. Frank uses the white color, symbolizing purity, the Ferrari car, symbolizing quality and luxury, to describe a relationship. They had fun. He drops someone off. He reminisces on their memories together, then sends a text with all the things he didn’t say, like so many of us have done before.
“I care for you still and I will forever
That was my part of the deal, honest
We got so familiar
Spending each day of the year,
The final lines of the verse show just how much Frank has matured. Instead of choosing the material things and wanting the sexual pleasure, he doesn’t want anything but deep connections shared with other people.
“Mind over matter is magic
I do magic
If you think about it, it’s over in no time, the best life”
We only have one life, and if you’re stuck in your brain the whole time, when will you be able to enjoy it? You won’t, so top thinking. Don’t listen to the pink matter. The one-minute outro that concludes this song is one of the most beautiful things you will listen to in a long time. Again, Frank instills in the other person to live their life through vacations (something Frank didn’t care to do on Channel Orange considering he thought he was living a ‘Sweet Life’), go back to their primal instincts, and get lost in your own mind, but don’t let it control you and keep you inside.
“You dream of walls that hold us in prison
It’s just a skull, least that’s what they call it
And we’re free to roam”
It’s just a skull; they’re just bones. But your mind? Your mind is yours. Your thoughts are yours. And they’re boundless. This outro forces you to believe that.
On the 15th track of the album, “Seigried,” Frank refuses to accept the end of a relationship, a relationship that helped him feel Nirvana. “This is not my life/It’s just a fond farewell to a friend.” Frank then thinks out loud as he wonders what the point of life is by comparing his to flammable paper that could be burning and in flames at any moment, so why not just live in the moment and get high to escape–a decision Frank has had to verse often throughout the album. Nonetheless, he assures his past lover “I’d do anything for you (In the dark),’ which may allude to the fact that this ex-lover is a man, and Frank wants to prove how much he loves him, but doesn’t feel comfortable showing it to everyone. And he reiterates it, five times.
The second to last track on the album, “Godspeed” is a story where Frank reminisces on the fact that he didn’t shed a tear during his teenage years. Even though he longed for the emotion then, he’s experiencing it now. He adds that his inability to remember crying might also just be because it’s becoming a distant memory and he’s forgetting the pain he felt. Frank lets go in Godspeed. “Wishing you godspeed, glory/There will be mountain you won’t move/Still I’ll always be there for you.” And ends with “I’ll always love you/Until the time we die.” Because the last stage of grief is acceptance.
‘Future Free’ is the final song on Blonde. In this song, Frank addresses his fame directly and by name in a stream of thoughts. He talks about how he’s still amazed by his fame and success, which isn’t surprising since Frank stays in the nosebleeds of the spotlight. From working on his feet for 7 dollars an hour to making 800,000, Frank’s astonished fans are paying to watch him.
“I should be paying them
I should be paying y’all honest to God
I’m just a guy I’m not a god”
Frank copes with his celebrity status with money and sex. But is also at odds because he says he feels like Selena because he’ll be murdered if he doesn’t do what’s expected of him by his label and fans. But that’s immediately pushed away when he talks about his true friend Tyler (Tyler, the Creator, a founding member of Frank Ocean’s original rap group, Odd Future), hooking up with girls who have boyfriends, and referencing his altercation with Chris Brown when he talks about how Jay told him to “act his net worth.” It ends with an outro interview by Frank’s younger brother Ryan interviews his friends about their greatest talents while the ‘Be Yourself’ instrumental plays in the background.
And that’s Blonde.
We put our headphones as Channel Orange ended down as kids, and we picked them up as adults to listen to Blonde. As I put mine back down, I’m changed again. Blonde took me on a journey through the moments in Frank’s life that molded how he has dealt with everything that has happened in the last four years. Just like you and me, Frank grew. He learned to follow the instincts of human nature. He had dates that didn’t come close to his expectations. He felt used, felt loved, felt regret, felt heart ache. Then, he overcame. He was able to reminisce and feel happiness and acceptance. His story is nothing short of a journey and his ability to convey it is nothing short of beauty.
Blonde reminds us we’re not children anymore. We will fall in love. We will be broken hearted. We will feel pain. And it’s OK. We don’t need to numb ourselves beyond recognition with drugs to forget. As a young twenty-something year old, I can relate to almost all of this, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. The way his poetry encapsulates emotions I couldn’t put into words is the reason I can’t stop listening to this album. He has shed light on the dark corners of my mind I thought no one else shared, unleashed my deepest fears, allowed me to be swallowed by my regrets, and in the end, assured me I will come out whole again, just like he did..
When you let life and emotion overcome you, that’s when the magic happens. And this album is nothing short of Frank pulling a rabbit out of a hat as the encore, even though it started with a disappearing act