In today’s day and age, listening to an album from beginning to end is almost unheard of. The widespread use of apps, such as Spotify, has encouraged users to choose their favorites off of an album and create their own modern day “mixtapes”, better known today as playlists.
Although I would consider myself a huge supporter (and user) of the “shuffle” option seen on almost all music platforms today, there is something to be said about listening to an album from start to finish. An abundance of time and thought goes into creating a good album, which might explain why it took American singer and songwriter, Frank Ocean, almost four years to release his most recent album, Blonde, in 2016.
For those of us who consider ourselves fans of Ocean, the word “recent” has become relative, and the act of waiting is quite familiar. Ocean is known for his cycles of releases and disappearances, constantly leaving his fans anticipating what is to come. The release of Blonde in August of 2016 marked the end of a long, tortured four year silence and the beginning of a new era of Ocean’s music; one full of emotional depth, intimate lyrics, and riveting concepts. Millions of fans got the album they had been waiting for, and most would argue it was worth the wait.
Blonde is a seventeen track, one hour long album, consisting of beautifully haunting stories woven into a series of mesmerizing chords and beats. The opening track, “Nikes”, sets the tone of the album. In this track, Ocean introduces very real and relevant issues in the United States involving overdose, racial profiling, and police brutality.
After listening to the first track, it is obvious that Ocean created this album as an outlet for self expression as well as a way of looking back on the events of his childhood. Throughout the album, he invites us into his personal journey of self-discovery and nostalgia and allows us to join him in analyzing the lessons that he has learned throughout his life.
Ocean uses the first few tracks to introduce the vulnerability of the album and to prepare the listener for the philosophical discovery and emotional abstractness that is to come.
As the album progresses, the idea of mortality becomes increasingly prevalent. Ocean sings about his battles with fame and his hatred of, yet longing for the American Dream.
He struggles to accept the transitoriness of life, questions death, and his sexuality leaves him feeling alienated from both the straight and LGBTQ communities. Through tracks such as “Nikes”, “Ivy”, and “Pretty Sweet”, Ocean exposes the materialistic people who attempt to form relationships with him simply to take advantage of his wealth.
This theme of exploitation and a lack of authenticity is mentioned several times throughout the album.
Another recurring technique used throughout the album is the obvious pitch of Ocean’s voice. Modulating his voice in order to make it sound higher-pitched was both a way to make him seem younger and acts as a representation of the different versions of himself.
Drug use and drug abuse are both mentioned in several songs throughout the album. Ocean comments on the effect that drug use has had on his life and relives the fantasies he has encountered while under the influence of drugs such as LSD. As one track flows into the next, Ocean expresses new emotions and describes different experiences that he believes make up the foundation of his life. Blonde was Ocean’s way of predicting his future by comparing it to his troubled past and the lives of those who he looks up to. He questions his existence and attempts to find meaning in the seemingly meaningless world he is living in.
As the album comes to an end, Ocean closes his album as if he was looking into a rear view mirror, watching the things of the past get smaller and smaller. He reflects on his life before fame and acknowledges the platform that he now has as an influencer. The last track of the album, “Futura Free”, includes the audio from past interviews with friends and family in order to create a sense of nostalgia.
Blonde is regarded as Ocean’s magnum opus, and for a very good reason. Through Blonde, Ocean spreads messages about the beauty of individuality and acceptance, the tragedy of loss, the mystery of existence, and of course love, or lack thereof. Whether you play it from start to finish, or add a few songs to a playlist, I encourage you to give Blonde a listen, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment