Frank Ocean's New Album 'Blonde' Lives Up to the Hype, and the Wait

Get all the details of the singer's latest album, including the best tracks.

ByABC News
August 22, 2016, 2:53 PM

— -- ****1/2

Even with its title and cover, Frank Ocean’s new album raises questions. Is it called "Blonde" or "Blond"? The cover reads "Blond," while iTunes lists it as "Blonde." Also, if it is called "Blonde," why is his hair green on the cover? These are the questions that circle the mind while listening to this album.

"Blonde" is a perplexing and simultaneously lulling record that lives up to the hype. In the same week that he dropped his visual album "Endless," this collection arrives, nearly equaling the impact of 2012’s "Channel Orange." There’s something unquestionably hypnotic about Ocean’s approach. He combines electro elements, old-school organs and authentic singing talent to make woozy sonic concoctions. At the same time, if you aren’t into edgy, unique music, this album could be quite polarizing from the pitch-shifted vocals on opener "Nikes" to the rambling, half-spoken ranting on closer, "Futura Free."

There’s a highly confessional quality in Frank Ocean’s work. It feels fresh, honest and intimate. It’s an approach more often associated with emo-minded rock than with R&B, but it is clear with this album and "Channel Orange," that Ocean is aiming to change the game. His closest peer in that regard is the Weeknd, whose “Trilogy” albums set a similarly ground-breaking and genre-defying tone.

This is also an album full of smaller moments. Five of these 17 tracks clock in under two minutes. Two of those tracks are spoken-word bits. One is a lecture on the dangers of drugs, which is perhaps from Ocean’s mother, while the other is a story from a friend, reportedly French DJ, SebastiAn, about a girlfriend ending their relationship because he didn’t want to be her Facebook friend.

The notion of alienation from outside forces can be seen as a recurring theme. At the same time, there is an argument that social media is like a drug with the peer-pressure-factor increased ten-fold.

Ocean also knows his history. Throughout this record he momentarily references Burt Bacharach’s "Close To You," The Beatles "Here, There and Everywhere" and Elliott Smith’s "A Fond Farewell." These are momentary quotes and just serve as fitting, brief detours.

To the delight of many listeners, Outkast’s Andre 3000 drops a verse on "Solo (Reprise.)" This is also ear-catching because he takes this opportunity to call out his peers who don’t pen their own flows. (By the way, a new, proper Outkast record is overdue!)

"Blonde" is a mesmerizing collection, but it's one that tests the listener, depending on tastes. Most groundbreaking albums don’t go down all that smoothly on the first listen. Like Beyoncé’s "Lemonade," this album is designed to be a challenging bit of sonic art intending to redefine the borders and expectations of modern R&B. When "Pretty Sweet" begins with cacophonous noise and ends with a children’s choir, the idea starts to take shape. This isn’t a typical pop record by any stretch.

Here, Frank Ocean comes off like a hybrid between a post-hip-hop answer to Stevie Wonder and post-"Kid A" Radiohead. This album is a demanding challenge and it has bits that could be deciphered well through December of this year. But even in the spots where Ocean leaves the audience confused, this feels like it's going to be a highly influential collection. If the chances Ocean takes on this record aren't enough, his smooth songs full of chilled, occasionally jazzy chord-progressions will be.

For now, the album is exclusively available from iTunes and Apple Music. Maybe when it does eventually get a physical release, it will be packaged with a bonus DVD of "Endless," mirroring the physical release of Beyoncé’s "Lemonade" and her HBO special. Only time will tell.

Frank Ocean has just cemented himself a place in the front of the pack of the forward-thinking, trend-setting artists working today. Lightning does apparently strike twice. "Blonde" was worth the wait.

Focus Tracks:

"Pink + White" Arguably, this is one of the most traditionally smooth offerings on the collection. It is a warm, slightly skittering waltz that has an immediate hook. This is Ocean at his very best.

"Ivy" Like "Pink + White," this is an immediately magnetic song, but this is the kind of deep love ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Lykke Li album. The falsetto freak-out towards the end of the track sounds like it may be a momentary Prince tribute of sorts.

"Seigfried" This is a dense, rich, constantly moving track with an introspective soul. This is the selection with the momentary Elliott Smith quote. It is a spacy, captivating bit of balladry complete with a bass line that sounds like something that could have been on Stereolab’s "Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night." Ocean channels his eclectic tastes and possible influences into something that is, at its highest points, quite singular and astounding.