Blond (FKA Boys Don't Cry) arrived during the night via Apple Music. On the cover, the man we've been waiting for, hair a vivid shade of Ryan Lochte green and showering in a Pre-Raphaelite pose. Frank Ocean shot by Wolfgang Tillmans.
In a year of unusual album rollouts, including Rihanna's hastily thrust out the door 8th record, Beyoncé's Olympian offering for her second visual album and Kanye's runway project turned international listening party album The Life of Pablo, Frank Ocean's release still stands out. When the album missed its promised release date(s), praying to the Internet didn't help, neither did the amount of memes and thinkpieces surrounding what the world thought would be Boys Don't Cry. Clues were carrots in front of our eyes; live streams, library due dates and cryptic promises of zines, music and 'twoooo versions' were empty until Friday, the Good Friday before today's Easter Sunday return.
The tantalising live stream evolved into Endless, a 45 minute long album of offcuts, which serves as a prelude to Blond and included an astonishing list of contributors and that cover of the Isley Brothers/Aaliyah track At Your Best, You Are Love, re-recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. But despite the wealth of music and the weight of the collaborators, Endless didn't quite meet people's expectations; the tracks didn't seem to matter/it was no Pink Matter. However, for those who had resigned to the fact that maybe that was all that was coming, it proved something.
Before Channel Orange, there was Nostalgia, Ultra, and before that The Lonny Breaux Collection, a 100 track mixtape of demos and sketches; practice for the main event. Endless wasn't the main event, but it was proof that somewhere in a neon lit black and white high contrast warehouse, dressed in vintage Playboy merch or a bang up to date Kappa tracksuit, Frank Ocean was building. Blond (FKA Boys Don't Cry) arrived during the night via Apple Music, stylised without the e on the artwork, with on Apple. 'Two versions?' On the cover, the man we've been waiting for, hair a vivid shade of Ryan Lochte green and showering in a Pre-Raphaelite pose. Frank Ocean shot by Wolfgang Tillmans.
The now familiar effervescent and delicate Nikes, released just yesterday with a stunning video by Tyrone Lebon, kicks off the album. The track name is the latest in a series of brand checks across the whole Blond campaign that includes Balmain and Comme Des Garçons. The lyrics describe a problematic relationship full of 'we're not in love, but I'll make love to you' that really seal the deal. Frank's back. Ivy is the most emotive we've ever heard from Ocean, with buzzing guitars, carefully altered Prince-ish falsetto and Kanye yelps at the end. It's smooth sailing on Pink and White, which opens on a flourish of strings to a settled nodding beat, light and summery, comparative to the reworked Coldplay number Strawberry Swing, ending with the chirrup of peaceful nature.
The music is interrupted momentarily by a message from his mom, 'Be yourself and know that that's good enough,' a build-up to the gospel like Solo, where Frank describes rolling on his own (sorry mom!) and a tongue in cheek slight about 'hitting that pussy raw though'. Solo is a meditation, a study on his time out and the practice of monk-like solitude, the reprise of which is an Andre 3000 featuring 8bit inspired collage. Next comes that painful purple guitar after an anecdote from photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, the man behind the Eurobeat ending to Endless.
White Ferrari is a devastating tale of lost love that borrows lyrics from The Beatles' Here, There and Everywhere and makes clear that part of the deal of loving is promising forever. He goes on to quote Elliot Smith's A Fond Farewell Seigfried, a stirring acoustic number. Frank has an innate skill to make you consider all you've done wrong, and bring up an uncertainty - 'maybe I've done wrong', 'do I hold my gifts for a second?' He ekes an aching nostalgia, and more often than not, it's something you haven't experienced. The album is both deeply personal and relatable, like all good art, and ruminates on modern relationship quirks. 'Did you call me from a seance?', he asks at one point. 'You text nothing like you look'.
The accompanying zine will now likely be the stuff of eBay dreamers, having been completely cleared out from the shelves of the singular London, LA, NY and Chicago newsagents it was stocked at during the night. With photographs from the likes of Nabil and Harley Weir, and poetry by the artist and friends, it also features a 44-strong list of album contributors that includes Arca, Beyonce, Brian Eno, David Bowie, James Blake, Jamie XX, Kanye, Kendrick, Pharrell, Rick Rubin, Tyler The Creator and Yung Lean. The project is an example of how much Frank is capable of, his dedication to the fans, and how much there is left to build.
This is an unmissable chapter in the Frank Ocean story, and is truthful to love itself - we've been witness to the process, we've yearned, we've scorned and then welcomed back with open arms. Here's to the third coming.