Considering that Frank Ocean’s Blonde album has been out for a couple of years now, there are plenty of articles dissecting its meaning and form. This review will instead detail the ways in which Blonde taps into the uncertain and poignant emotions of youth. I believe that what makes the album so special is that its rap can be best summarized as sentimental, which is sometimes a rarity for the genre. Blonde is lengthy but well worth your time as the perfect album for late nights and languid mornings. Listening to it now, having just graduated from college and stumbling into young adulthood with one foot in the nostalgic mire, it well encapsulates the transition into what? for a twenty-something like me. Frank Ocean balances the past, the future, and the gratitude for both good and bad experiences.
Blonde has a vulnerable start with a sparse tone, only a lone guitar populating the background. It’s simple and clean and gives Ocean the space to play with this sparseness for the album’s remainder.The track called Solo has remained a transcendent experience for me every time I hear it. Here, cussing is juxtaposed with a gentle organ, a surprising addition to a rap album, and small, sharp whistling accents. Ocean gives a spiritual performance as he moves from low to high, microcosmic to macrocosmic, and sings about the constellations. I remember my heart growing bigger than the sky as I made out with my second sort-of-boyfriend in his messy college room to Ocean’s blossoming run here. While I might not have been solo when I first heard it, the song represents a beautiful, bittersweet feeling of loneliness and desperation:
“It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire
Inhale, in hell there’s heaven
There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky
Inhale, in hell there’s heaven…”
Ivy is a wistful and earnest recalling of childhood and the beginnings of a young love story. He reminds us that we all eventually grow up, and the ways we learn lessons by tiptoeing through insecurities, bumping into them, getting surprised:
“I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me
The start of nothing
I had no chance to prepare
I couldn’t see you coming
And we started from nothing
I could hate you now
It’s alright to hate me now
When we both know that deep down
The feeling still deep down is good…”
In a more somber setting, we also receive a glimpse into the life of a young adolescent on the receiving end of a mother’s well-meaning but aggressive rhetoric about drug use and similar lifestyle choices in the phone-call sketch track Be Yourself: “This is mom: call me. Bye.”
Self Control is cheekily confident as Ocean boasts, “I’ll be the boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight”, but once again manages to sound vulnerable due to the ambience of the instrumentals. Everything on this album, and particularly this song, is delivered with the confidence of someone just trying to figure it out, stumbling and skinning a knee, and then shrugging it off with cockiness in spite of the sting.
Blonde feels a bit like a speeding train towards the middle, rising in both anxiety and passion. It’s not so dissimilar to real life, when your heart rushes and rages but also sometimes feels like it’s full of ice. In my life, Frank Ocean’s Blonde was the background music to a long car ride down a dark winding road as some friends and I headed to the city with only our voices and the headlights. The songs highlight and narrate relatable highs and lows.
To me, Blonde is happiness and discovery. What it could mean for you, I don’t know, but I hope you’ll give it a listen.
Stand outs: Pink + White, Ivy, Solo, Siegfried
Surprise: Be Yourself
Written by Lillian Snortland
Image of Frank Ocean, shot by Nabil for Oyster Magazine.