Frank Ocean’s Blond was released this week last year. Here is a review of the album
The world waited for the release of Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry and when it had almost given up, Ocean decided to reward it with two albums: Endless and Blonde.
In the four years that Ocean was away from the ‘music scene’, we wondered aloud if he had gone the way of Lauryn Hill—bugged down by the expectations of the society, creativity and everything that comes with it. But that changed with the release of the video album, Endless and followed it immediately with Blonde.
Known as an artist that takes time, Ocean did just that with the two albums. In Endless, the video was a black and white live-stream as the instrumental tracks were previewed. He followed with the full songs with vocals. The process in itself— building blocks and staircase— would seem a boring endeavour by anyone. But to the artist, it is a metaphor. And to the critics, a puzzle that needed to be unravelled.
Step by step, Endless became a story of interacting with the audience. In each song, the artist seem to show the benefits of delayed gratification as seen in Device Control, where Ocean is making a staircase from scratch and in the subsequent songs, we see him as he advances with the staircase process.
Away from the video, the lyric content of Endless is heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming. It is an ode to feelings as Ocean turns one song to the other. We get to hear Ocean as a singer and as a rapper. But there are moments he sounds better as a rapper, bringing into question our belief in his creativity as we see it. But what we miss out is the aspect of creativity that is Ocean’s process and as evidenced in the video. It seems like he is trying to tell us to let go of things that seem complete when in the real sense they are not. That completeness is not the end goal, instead, we should focus on the process: the motions. It is why he focuses so much on the staircase and does not seem necessarily fazed when it disappears just when he almost gets to the top. Instead, we see him going back to the beginning. Is this a metaphor for waiting or for repetition? Perhaps.
As much as he was underwhelming in Endless, he exonerates himself with such gusto in Blond. He reminds us a bit of the creativity in Channel Orange and draws us into the life of the persons in the song. Unlike the blandness in Endless, Blond is more about growth and identity as a person and as an artist.
Ocean’s delves into the past in Solo (Reprise) where he features Andre and gives a glimpse of the future in Seigfried, where he wished to settle down.
In a way, the albums look like a statement of Ocean’s creativity. That in Endless he can be as boring and as mundane as can be (it is believed he did this album as part of a contractual obligation to his label) and still make it seem like an effortless procedure. The contrast is obvious in Blond, where we get his familiar introvertedness and lyricism.