Blond, Endless + Boys Don’t Cry: Appreciating Frank Ocean’s Multimedia Album Launch
Frank Ocean has released something that's so much *more* than an album release. Let's talk through one of the biggest music moments of a generation.
Back when world-famous carpenter Frank Ocean was still on Twitter, and not long after he released channel ORANGE, he wrote: “If you’re a writer you can write anything…prose, songs, raps, novels, plays, films, laws…take the governor off your gift. Note to self.”
Clearly, the ‘Thinking ‘Bout You’ singer took his own advice to heart. Summer 2016 came and a live stream, a visual album, a magazine (containing poetry, photographs and more) and then the album itself followed. Furthermore, with the date November 13 2016 marked on Ocean's library due card, there could be more coming soon.
Frank Ocean has created something that’s so much more than an album launch, although he’s not the first to do it this year. Kanye West is almost turning The Life Of Pablo into a yearlong release via pop-up stores selling merchandise; spread across major cities (including London, Berlin and New York) the world over. It’s a really cool idea, even if the merch on sale is garbage.
But Frank Ocean has done something a whole lot more compelling: a multimedia album launch that further cements his status as one of this generation’s leading artists.
In a time when almost everything is always available all of the time, I like that Frank made us wait. Forcing fans to be patient in 2016 is bold. That wait was, yes, tiring (even Adele was getting edgy, at one point remarking in her idiosyncratic style: “I'm just f**king waiting for Frank f**king Ocean to come out with his album. It's taking so f**king long”), but it was worth it.
We all have a hundred impressions and thoughts about the run-up to Blond (and about the album itself), and I can’t be the only one who’s really, genuinely excited to read and listen to what other people think about it all.
Any publication that has published a ‘review’ within the first few days of release is talking rubbish. So please note – this is by no means a definitive critique. If Frank has spent this much time making this for us, the least we can do is spend time taking it all in. As Lorde said:
The live stream
- Looking back on it, it’s easy to write the live stream off as being ‘a little bit dull’. You can understand why some might say that. Woodwork doesn’t make for gripping viewing. It just doesn’t. But, if you can, please cast your minds back to that first hour of it going live: it felt so good to get excited about something with people. The live stream was a very 2016 thing, and Twitter did a lot to enhance the experience. You felt like you were sat in a cinema watching the whole thing unfold with all of the biggest Frank Ocean fans the world over sat right next to you, sharing thoughts and jokes.
- Not all of the music from the live stream made it onto Endless, and all of the SoundCloud accounts that had ripped all of the stream’s 21 instrumental tracks and put them into handy playlists (one was perfectly named ‘Music to cut wood by’) have now been removed. Which is a shame, because a lot those instrumentals were the sort of woozy, ambient music I love listening to.
- On a final note, we can now all scratch ‘watch a carpentry class live stream’ off our collective bucket lists. So that’s good.
- Endless sounds so atmospheric and raw and beautiful. It might end up being viewed as 'just' a precursor to Blond, but it really does stand alone on its own legs (or...steps? I'll take my leave).
- Some articles out there have said that this visual album is better enjoyed without the visuals. I don't agree. I get that there’s not a lot going on in a flashy sense – there are no monster trucks crushing cars a la Beyoncé – but in my opinion, it’s saying a lot. Building that spiral staircase takes time and hard work. A lot of time and hard work. Kind of like how this project – in all its multimedia glory – would’ve taken. In 45(ish) minutes, it’s a neat acknowledgement, almost a wink to Frank Ocean’s fans, that he understands that there’s been a whole lot of torturous, meme-heavy waiting, but there will be something beautiful at the end that makes all the hard work pays off – be it a spiral staircase or a beautiful album. Perhaps Frank is saying that if people are willing to be patient, there will be a reward at the end. Which is interesting; because in Endless, we never get to experience the reward of seeing Frank go up the staircase.
- Or maybe I’m talking a load of rubbish and Frank is wrapped up in a sponsorship deal with B&Q or Wickes or some s**t. Unlikely, but who knows! (Frank Ocean definitely knows.) What do you think the visuals for Endless are about?
- One final thing: what did you make of that final track? I was unsure whether I should laugh or not. After all that hype – Frank closes the visual album by reading out mobile phone press releases?! C’mon, that’s funny. We expect a lot of things from Frank Ocean (perhaps unfairly), but we never expect him to make us laugh. So thank you for that, Frank.
- Is it Blonde or Blond? I'm going to go with Blond, because that’s what's written on the album art and it's definitely better. You can disgaree, but then you'd be wrong. ;).
- Blond’s credits are listed in the Boys Don’t Cry magazine, and they finally put The Beatles and Yung Lean together in one place (said no one ever). Also listed on there are names such as David Bowie, Kanye West, Pharrell, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake, Rostam Batmanglij (former member of Vampire Weekend), the Trinity Temple Gospel Mass Choir, Andre 3000 (who is outstanding on ‘Solo (Reprise)’ just like how he was on channel ORANGE’s ‘Pink Matter’) and a whole lot more. Essentially, if you’re a musician, and you’re good at your job, you’ve been credited on Blond. Which is why U2 aren't on there.
- That album art = iconic.
- Album opener ‘Nikes’ is incredible. It’s subtle, yet dense. It’s intelligent, and begs to be unpacked, especially those final lyrics in the track’s outro: “I may be younger, but I’ll look after you / We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you / When you’re not here, I’ll save some for you/ I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you.” I don’t know about you, but that final lyric really hit me hard. Who can’t relate to those lyrics? I would say that it’s my favourite song on the album, but then around nine songs on there are the right choices for ‘favourite song’. I love the way the synths lightly smack you at the start, and the rapid, clattering drums that follow shortly after. The lyric about Trayvon hits the hardest. The thundering variety of images depicted in the video, from a prancing devil to Frank’s deadpan stare in the club, are stunning. I do miss the deep, sonorous ‘I got twooooo versions’ voice that was present in the music video though. The pitch shifting worked.
- It’s so smart how Blond transitions from ‘Be Yourself’ (which is a voicemail message from Ocean’s mum telling him to avoid drugs and alcohol) into the next song, ‘Solo’, which has Frank singing about dropping acid within the first two lines: “Hand me a towel I’m dirty dancing by myself / Gone off tabs of that acid”. Frank missed the call, forcing his mum to leave that voicemail because Frank was out getting fu***d. A great transition.
- Also, on ‘Solo’, I can never get bored of hearing Frank sing, “There’s a bull and a matador duelling in the sky” in the chorus. Frank’s beautiful vocals carry the song. I’m addicted to this track.
- Blond is almost devoid of any ‘hits’, or anything that could be seriously considered a single. Which I really like. It’s not interested in any of that. It’s more ambitious than that. It wants to push its sound further.
- (I’m starting to gush a bit now, aren’t I?)
- I love how often guitars are used on this album, especially at the start of ‘Ivy’ and at the end of ‘Pretty Sweet’.
- Blond is, for the most part, very chilled out. ‘Pink + White’, one of the album’s best songs, is the soundtrack to all those Sunday mornings you want to spend wrapped up in your duvet.
- Close your eyes when the final 70 seconds on ‘Self Control’ hit. If you don’t feel like you’re floating, you’re probably dead inside. Frank’s vocals take this one to another level.
- Bon Iver sounds glorious on ‘White Ferrari’: “I’m sure we’re taller in another dimension / You say we’re smaller and not worth the mention.”
- I do not care one ounce how uncool I sound right now. It’s good to get excited. Thank you Frank.
Boys Don’t Cry
- WHERE CAN I GET MY GRUBBY LITTLE HANDS ON ONE OF THESE? I AM DETERMINED TO GET MY HANDS ON A COPY.
Blond is available over on Apple Music here.