Boys Don’t Cry
Pigs flew and hell froze over for a weekend as Frank Ocean finally dropped not one, but two projects with his long form video “Endless” and his looooooooooong anticipated follow up to Channel Orange, Blonde, which is stylized as Blond according to every musical publication. Thing is, if it’s labeled as Blond on the cover, why are we saying its stylized aside from the fact that Apple Music lists it as Blonde? This is emblematic of the Frank Ocean experience. There’s a whole lot of What the Fuck amidst some very good music mixed in with some more music that makes you say ugggggh, na na na na.
Let’s go ahead and get my bona fides out of the way. I’m not really a Frank Ocean fan. I’m also not not a Frank Ocean fan either. I’m a fan of good music and anybody who makes good music. I didn’t love Channel Orange though I thought it was okay and was confused why so many people thought it was a classic piece of art. However, I’ve long learned that just because I don’t get it doesn’t mean that the critically intuned masses are wrong. I have sporadically listened to Channel Orange and there are songs I enjoy. I do, however, respect and appreciate artistry and I recognize him as a great songwriter with a voice that nobody is calling home about. This is Frank Orange in a nutshell to me.
Now, while I don’t get the hype, I can understand why people who do are waiting long and hard for new material. See D’Angelo and Maxwell. Thus brings us to Blonde, which had been previously titled as Boys Don’t Cry (totally not true, beeteedubs, we all know men cry in the dark). He’s been teasing this album for a while now so the late night screams at the inkling of new information that doesn’t lead anywhere has been a thing for months. Poor lil tink tinks.
But alas, there is a God, dreams do come true, and I’m sure that Brick killed a guy so on Saturday, August 20th, in the year of our lord two thousand and sixteen, Mr. Ocean parted the heavens and brought forth – finally – his newest entry into the musical sainthood canon, Blonde…which is, again, stylized as Blond because that’s a thing.
So how do I feel about it?
Here’s how I feel about it.
I feel like Blonde is the album that Kanye West and a version of Drake that doesn’t care about getting money, women, or fame, would make after binging on Radiohead albums for two years. Weird and and artsy enough for the true fans to be able to retort to all of those who are like, “bish whet?” with “it’s a Frank Ocean thing, you just wouldn’t understand,” but also interesting enough to keep everybody else talking about whether or not it’s good or if you can even say, “it’s not good” because who the fuck knows since it’s listenable, intriguing, forgettable, odd, exciting, and boring at the exact same time. This album is a rainstorm. Which is a pun because Ocean. Because water? You get it right? If you are calling me corny right now then you are full of shit if you love Frank Ocean.
As much of a consumer of music as I am – which includes reading reviews and features about the creation of albums (my favorite pieces of music journalism) – I’m also not one of those people who thinks that these artists that I love are as deep as we’d like to believe them to be. For instance, on the Apple Music page for the album, it says “The visionary artist’s highly anticipated new album – ” and I’m like…what exactly makes him visionary aside from the fact that the nigga can see? Shit, Stevie Wonder? Visionary. Pun. He changed the game. Kanye? Visionary. Bob Dylan? Billie Holiday? Dolly Parton? Visionary.
Frank Ocean just kind of uses his eyes to see to me and makes music when he’s bored apparently. Now, I do think its entirely possible for artists who are just being themselves to be very avant-garde and envelope pushing just by their very nature. D’Angelo is one of those reclusive types whose artistry is absolutely mind-bending and it just seems to be who he is an artist. I’m not saying Frank Ocean can’t be one of those artists. Even on this album he’s showing flashes of that brilliance.
As negative as that sounded, it speaks more to the perception of Frank Ocean than to his actual music. I actually like the album. Kinda. Upon first listen I definitely wasn’t a fan of it, having likened it to Sunny D in several text conversations I’ve had about the album since its release, but I also only did my typical quick run through to see if I wanted to listen to it fully. By this point, I’ve listened to the album in full multiple times and I find myself enjoying it in parts. For instance, I absolutely love “Seigfried”. I like “Pink+White” which features a fairly indistinguishable-from-anybody-else Beyonce but , but it ALSO sounds like a Foreign Exchange song to me.
In fact, there’s really no song that I outright dislike. There just aren’t any moments that stand out significantly to me though the more I listen the more I find myself enjoying it. This is the perfect background music to a Sunday spent dusting and buffing the fine silver. It’s wispy enough in many parts to be perfect for butterfly chasing or aggressive toenail clipping or re-watching rhythmic gymnastics with the volume down from the Olympics.
That’s it for me, I don’t hear a seminal, landmark album at all. I hear an album that has beautiful movements in parts, like “Self Control”, which drifts into a beautiful sonic sunset when a, no-lie, white rapper from Sweden named Yung Lean comes into the picture. You like how I said beautiful sonic sunset, don’t you? It’s okay, I liked it too.
There are Drake-sounding moments. There is Andre 3000 coming through with the awesomeness absolutely taking a shot at Drake. I don’t care how it can be possibly interpreted. There are interesting forays into playing with sound. There are bitches there are niggas at the same damn time. It’s minimalist. It’s emo. There are nigga moments and tender moments. And memories and introspection. It’s got it all.
And yet I’m still not sure how great an album I think it is while knowing full well that I’m going to hear from people that this is a classic album and game changer. Because it’s Frank Ocean and only because it’s Frank Ocean. I recognize that I might not get it because I typically listen to music purely for enjoyment reasons and I guess its possible to miss the landmark accomplishment when you can’t hear it directly. Then again, I don’t think To Pimp A Butterfly is a very listenable album but it’s clearly one of the most ambitious works of art we’ve heard in years regardless of genre. I don’t hear ambition on Blonde necessarily. But maybe I don’t know exactly what it is I’m missing OR supposed to be looking for.
It reminds me a little of how people feel about J. Cole. People are either the world’s biggest stans or don’t really get it. There’s very little middle ground. I think Frank Ocean has a similar fanbase. Folks either believe he’s a part of the musical vanguard or he’s just another dude making fair to middling music who might be too artsy for his own good.
And I think that’s where I often get tripped up when it comes to Frank. It’s often painted not as music to just enjoy, but music to understand is seminal genre-bending with Grand Canyon-type depth. That’s what I’m trying to see. But I keep having a blonde moment.
But at least he finally released music that will keep the conversation going. And as a musician, what you really want is people to be talking about your art. To that end, he’s managed to be one of the more successful recent artists in that regard.
Meanwhile, I’m going to spend way more time than is recommended trying to figure out if I like this album or not.
Thanks, Ocean. Damn blondes. Or blonds. Because stylized and shit.