'Blond' (FKA 'Boys Don't Cry') has arrived! On the cover: the man we've been waiting for, hair a vivid shade of Ryan Lochte green and photographed by Wolfgang Tillmans.
In a year of unusual album rollouts — including Rihanna's many-chambered eighth record, Beyoncé's Olympian offering for her second visual album, and Kanye's runway project turned international listening party soundtrack 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 think pieces surrounding what the world thought would be Boys Don't Cry. Clues kept us guessing and hoping — there were live streams and cryptic promises of zines — but they led to nothing until late Thursday night.
That tantalizing live stream evolved into Endless, a 45-minute visual 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. However, for those who had resigned themselves to the fact that maybe Endless 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 warehouse (dressed in vintage Playboy merch or a bang up-to-date Kappa tracksuit) Ocean was building. On Saturday, Blond (FKA Boys Don't Cry) arrived during the night via Apple Music, stylized without the "e" in the artwork. "Two versions?" On its cover: the man we've been waiting for, hair a vivid shade of Ryan Lochte green, showering in a Pre-Raphaelite pose, and photographed by Wolfgang Tillmans.
The now familiar effervescent and delicate "Nikes" — released on Saturday morning with a stunning video by Tyrone Lebon — kicks off the album. The track's title completes a series of brand name checks across the Blond campaign that also 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 seals the deal. Frank's back. "Ivy" is Ocean at his most emotional; it includes buzzing guitars, carefully altered Prince-ish falsetto, and Kanye yelps at the end. It's smooth sailing on "Pink and White," which opens with a flourish of strings, settles into a light and summery nodding beat, and ends with the chirrup of peaceful nature.
The music is interrupted momentarily by an anti-marijuana message from his mom, "Be yourself and know that that's good enough," a build-up to the gospel-like "Solo." On that track, Frank describes rolling on his own (sorry mom!) and a tongue-in-cheek slight about "hitting that pussy raw though." "Solo" is a study on Frank's timeout and the practice of monk-like solitude. Its reprise is an 8bit inspired collage featuring Andre 3000. Next comes that painful purple guitar after an anecdote from SebastiAn on "Facebook Story."
"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" on stirring acoustic number "Seigfried." Frank has an innate skill to make you consider all you've done wrong, and bring up uncertainties. He ekes out an aching nostalgia, and more often than not, it's something you haven't experienced. The album is both deeply personal and relatable, and ruminates on the quirks of modern relationships. "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 dreams, having been completely cleared out from the shelves of the London, LA, NY, and Chicago newsagents where it was stocked at during the night. It includes photographs from the likes of Nabil and Harley Weir, and poetry by Ocean and his friends. It also features a 44-strong list of album contributors including Arca, Beyoncé, 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 his fans, and how much there is left to build.
Text Tom Ivin