Could I ever give this album anything less than five stars? Is there anyone at this school who can honestly say that they haven’t listened to this album? The answer to the first question is a resounding no, while the answer to the second is, obviously, yes. In fact, many people haven’t listened to this album, but everyone is aware of its influence.
Not only is this album creative, but it’s one of those rare albums that captures the exact feeling of a moment and preserves it in amber while setting the precedent for others to follow.
I thought it would be cool to review this album around two years after its release as a way to sum up some thoughts I’ve had since my first review of it, and as a way to look at just how influential “Blonde” has already been.
I should start with my major complaint surrounding Ocean’s listeners: Some people don’t like the opening track “Nikes.” I don’t understand how this is possible. Everything about this track is melodious to me. I do not know why people do not like the tone-shifted vocals. They match the instrumental melody perfectly, Ocean’s voice sounds great and the payoff when Ocean turns the tone-shifting off is immense.
I always thought of the tone-shifting as a way for Ocean to poke fun at the public’s rampant desire for new music at the point of the album’s release. However, I’m confident in saying that I am wrong about this. I don’t think “Nikes” works without the tone-shift.
That’s refreshing for an album in this day and age: Everything in this album is there for a very specific reason, and everything works well where it is. The legendary track “Nights” is testament to this.
“Nights” is a classic. There has never been any question about this, even when the album was only a couple of days old. I mean, come on. A minute and 30 seconds in, the song goes from a braggadocious ballad to a truly epic flight across a skyline. I cannot get enough of those swooping synths that have the right amount of glare on them.
That turn into a magnificent blend of synthetic and organic is all over this album. The song “Seigfried” is a dense track that reveals new sounds and instruments each time I listen to it. Ocean’s verse at the end of the track is beautifully paired with that harsh vocal distortion and the spacious keyboards. It matches up so well; it’s like warm butter over warmer toast. It’s impeccable to me.
The second half of the album is the side that gets talked about less. The first half is a model of listenable excellence, but the tracks after “Nights” take more time to get into. I blame this solely on “Pretty Sweet,” which is the most abrasive and obtrusive track on this album.
I love this tune, but not due to the IDM influence (or slower-paced electronic music commonly known as intelligent dance music) that Ocean displays proudly on the back end of this track. However, I understand that if you don’t go in for that kind of music, then you won’t like “Pretty Sweet.” But as with all other songs on this album, there’s a dense instrumentation and lyrical flourish that gives this track almost endless listenability.
I’ve said all of this before. I was saying this to my friends when the album came out two summers ago, and I was defending it last winter break to those same friends. And I’m going to keep praising this album because I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is one of the most influential records to come out in this decade.
There is no “4:44” by Jay-Z without this album, there is no Brockhampton without this album, there is no SZA without this album, and there is no Daniel Caesar either. I am not saying this because these artists aren’t fantastic in their own rights, but because it is apparent that they are directly influenced by the sounds that Ocean introduces on this album.
But that’s hip-hop; no one can argue with that. Frank Ocean is a big name in his circle of fellow musicians, but even outside of this circle, “Blonde’s” influence is still strong.
Jonny Greenwood’s score for “Phantom Thread” has an aching similarity to the strings he added to this album. Spike Jonze, of “Her” fame, produced video clips for Ocean’s tour of the album (clips that included Brad Pitt of all people). This album isn’t just the music on the disc; it’s a manifestation of the mind of someone who has his fingers on the pulse of the current pop-cultural and music scene.
What I love about this record is that I just keep coming back to it, and I can see other people doing so as well. This album has itself become a central beat to the cultural rhythm. I mean, for God’s sake, the skits on this album could be recited verbatim by a large percentage of our small campus. There’s something about the experience that Ocean curates on this album that is intensely personal and entirely accessible.
This is a feat in and of itself, but when considered within the broader context of what this album accomplishes sonically, and with the sheer number of guest artists on this album, “Blonde” becomes a staggering accomplishment. Beyonce does backing vocals for “Pink and White,” Kendrick Lamar adds short interjections to the track “Skyline To,” John Mayer adds guitar all over tracks on this album and James Blake’s impact on the record can be heard on many tracks. Listening to this collection doesn’t feel like listening to just Frank Ocean; rather, it feels like listening to everyone who is a part of this musical moment.
To include so many chart-topping artists on one album and still maintain complete control over it is an impressive feat. Not only this, but somehow––through some magic––Frank Ocean opens himself up completely to the listener. There’s a raw sense of emotion that clings to this album, one that works wonders on the listener. I can think of no other album that even comes close to the level of creativity and originality seen on “Blonde”––not even any of Frank Ocean’s other projects.