The curse of the difficult-second-album hangs over Frank Ocean’s Blonde like an unforgiving spectre. As if following up his critically acclaimed debut, Channel Orange, wasn’t hard enough already: there was the endless rumours, the delays and the never-ending storm of desire and derision on social media. No wonder Ocean prefers to keep himself to himself these days.
For better and worse, Ocean’s second album is the product of personal struggle under the weight of intense expectation. It doesn’t reach the dizzying perfection of his 2012 debut, but it is a profound listen nonetheless.
Don’t come to Blonde expecting to hear another ‘Super Rich Kids’ or ‘Pyramids’. They aren’t there. And with good reason: while Channel Orange was a deep flipbook of emotions and visions, Blonde feels like a relationship breakdown perpetually sweeping between hot (‘Nikes’) and cold (‘Solo’) hues. It’s sweet and sour melancholy – and nobody does it quite like Ocean.
The stupendous ‘Pink + White’, produced by Pharrell Williams, who also crafted the blissful sounds for ‘Sweet Life’, is hands down one of the most beautiful pieces of music period. It’s a juicy fruit that whisks you away to your own private Garden of Eden while you’re serenaded by Ocean’s intoxicating croons. Equally as bedazzling is the melodic, future-past of ‘White Ferrari’, which quotes the Beatles’s ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, and ‘Seigfried’ which is up there with David Bowie’s ‘Blackstar’ for the amount of genre-surfing it does, flowing from a minimal, dreamy guitar pattern and electronic loop, to a future-ish melody blended with orchestral notches.
Ocean worked with an army of fellow musicians, producers, and unlisted superstar guests (Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, André 3000), to craft the subtle mood for this album. Unfortunately, as a complete package, parts of Blonde are not as nuanced or original (‘Facebook Story’) as long-time Ocean fans, and discerning music listeners in general, would wish. That said, Ocean is still a bold storyteller, capturing the complications of love (‘Nights’), sexuality (‘Good Guy’) and the relentless passage of time (‘Skyline To’) with sharp resonance. Blonde can delight as much as it can disappoint, and it will leave you wondering just what Ocean will do next.
Blonde is out now on Boys Don’t Cry.
Have you listened to this album? If so, what did you think of it? Tweet me @aarnlee.
Image: Frank Ocean/Boys Don’t Cry/PR