Frank Ocean - Blonde
"We gon' see the future first / We'll let you guys prophesy," Frank Ocean sings on opener Nikes – and you believe him. Not least because the high, eerie 'wooooooh's that ring cold and cutting feel reminiscent of Kanye's Wolves, a track Ocean (briefly) contributed to earlier this year and has cleared by a country mile. The single with which Ocean introduced his second official album is delicate, tender, true; wheeling through commercial dealings, police brutality and the trappings of fame with class and clatter. It reads like the elusive artist is catching us up to speed. It's been a long time.
After years of silence, signs and no-shows, the hype surrounding a new Ocean release reached fever pitch on 5 August. Even the New York Times confimed the drop. But the day came and went; silence. The following weekend, on Frank Ocean's own terms, he brought out a visual album (Endless) which reportedly fulfilled his commitments to his label Def Jam. 24 hours later, heralded by a magazine titled Boys Don't Cry – long suspected to be the title of his actual album – Ocean came through with Blonde, and a much healthier cut of the takings.
Even more astonishingly, Blonde has survived the media frenzy: it's a dignified, down-tempo celebration of taking all the damn time you need to get something done that's worth doing right. Over seventeen tracks and a holy guestlist including (but by no means limited to) Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Yung Lean, Tyler The Creator, James Blake, Jamie xx and Pharrell, Ocean sets out his vision for the future.
Soulful, impeccable production shines on every heartbreak and highlight, and we roll through a recognisable landscape of extroversion, self-reflection, coke, sex, swimming pools and expensive cars. Soulful, classic lines find Ocean celebrating his skill; his voice is gorgeous and able and he revels in it. "Hand me a towel I'm dirty dancing by myself," opens the assertive, grubby Solo. Bey and K Dot are relegated to backing vocals in the biggest powerplay we'll see this year; Andre brings one of his best verses on Solo (Reprise).
After nine tracks picking up where Channel ORANGE left off, we hit the record's suggestions for the future. "I'm on this side, I'm on this side," chants Pretty Sweet, marking the turn, after frenzy gives way to a surprisingly fresh drum and bass drop. Close To You covers Stevie Wonder (covering Burt Bacharach), with Vegyn's production chopping and crushing Ocean's vocals.
White Ferrari borrows from The Beatles, with haunting spots from Blake and Bon Iver. Seigfried brings in Elliott Smith's A Fond Farewell for a solemn consideration of mortality. Past and present blend, and the album's closer Futura Free freewheels though reflections provided by Ocean, and then his brother in a dated interview with skateboarder Sage Elsesser. Cuts and crashes build to a climax, and one last voice breaks through: "How far is a light year?"