A little more than 4 years after his debut album Channel ORANGE was released, R&B artist Frank Ocean dropped his sophomore album, Blonde (stylized to blond), on August 20th. Ocean’s first studio album received extremely positive reviews and the R&B community has been “patiently” waiting for a follow up for some time now.
Fans of Channel ORANGE may or may not be happy to know that Blonde repeats many of the same tones, techniques, and themes as Ocean’s first studio album. Both albums will occasionally drastically change tones in the middle of songs. They both touch subjects such as religion, class, youth, and drug use. A spoken track performed by a mother figure appears in both albums.
However, pretending that Blonde is a cut and dry follow up to Channel ORANGE would be a folly. Although some general feelings and themes connect the two, on a more precise level they are very different. While Channel ORANGE constantly made the listener aware of time and place, Blonde pays little attention to scene and far more to emotion and memory. Ocean’s first album, while unique, was certainly R&B. Blonde is far more hesitant to adopt a specific genre. While each song has aspects of R&B, many tracks could be easily described as indie pop, electronic, etc.
Moving on to some of the actual music. The album opens with the only single, Nikes, which eases listeners back into the mindset of Ocean. However, the augmented vocals warn that this is going to be a very different experience than Channel ORANGE. Ivy shows his ability to make amazing music even outside of R&B! Solo has, in my humble opinion, possibly the best crafted lyrics of any of Ocean’s songs, and the artist backs them up with beautiful vocals and haunting organ work.
This album is certainly indulgent, however I do not think overly so. While there are a couple of songs that are more experimental it’s clear that a lot of work went into every single second of all 17 tracks. Ocean delivers some of his best vocal performances in Godspeed and Seigfried. Every song lives up to the lyrical standards of Ocean’s first album. Fan’s of Ocean will feel at home sinking deep into the sublime sounds of Blonde. However I’d would advise newcomers to check out Channel ORANGE first as it’s more strongly rooted in R&B. My personal pick for best track is Solo, but Nikes, Pink+White, and Godspeed are all must-listens.
It’s hard to come to a final conclusion for an album like Blonde, especially with Channel ORANGE still in the back of my mind. What I can say is that fans have been waiting and anticipating for Ocean’s second album for a long, long time, and even with all the pushbacks and false dates Blonde is well worth the wait.