The spontaneous arrival of Frank Ocean’s new album, surprise released last weekend as Blonde rather than its working title of Boys Don’t Cry, is compromised by its enclosure within the giant corporate walls of Apple, which has exclusive rights to sell and stream it.
But the album’s impulsive roll-out — a slightly different version exists as a limited edition CD and it was preceded by a video album, Endless — is true to the themes of freedom and being trapped that play out impressively in its songs.
“Living so the last night feels like a past life,” the Californian sings on the opening track “Nikes” whose numbed beat recalls his 2012 breakthrough debut Channel Orange. But then the style shifts to a warmer mode, announced by “Ivy”’s mellow interplay of guitars and reflective lyrics about a youthful love affair. “We’ll never get to be those kids again,” Ocean sings in a high voice, as though straining fruitlessly after what is gone.
The album is suffused with nostalgia for the past — sexual memories, old friendships — audible in the old-fashioned organ vamps and hints of Stevie Wonder that surface in these abstractedly constructed songs.
The present moment provides a more confusing set of sensations. “This is the blood, the body right now,” Ocean sings amid dissonant orchestrations and colliding time signatures on “Pretty Sweet”, the boldest musical statement on an unpredictable and powerful album.
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