Frank Ocean Blond[e] Boy's Don't Cry
In the grand scheme of things, four years isn’t that long. Reality, however, feels different: four years in the age of digital nativism is better measured in hours. And, yes, it’s hard not to admit that 35,544 hours sounds like a long time. But Frank Ocean’s Blond[e], as much as it’s about anything, is an album concerned with time in a wholly different fashion – not how it passes, but how it changes and changes us in the process.
From the thinly-if-at-all veiled digs of Futura Free (“I ain’t on your schedule, I ain’t on no schedule”) – which could as easily be aimed at impatient fans as much as at the label obligations he’s so expertly extricated himself from with the aid of Endless – to the shifting seasons and the times of day (the summer, the moonlight, the solstice) that figure so prominently in Skyline To, Blond[e] tackles questions about the speed, shape, inevitability and subjectivity of time and our place within it.
White Ferrari is a hazy mix of nostalgia and self-realisation; photo snapshots of memories punctuated with lines – “16: how was I supposed to know anything?” / “Mind over matter is magic” / “Clearly this isn’t all that there is” – that throw them instantly into doubt. A phone call from a mother to a son on Be Yourself, too, is sweet and sincere on the surface – but this isn’t Ocean’s mother and this message wasn’t for him: it’s like a treatise in the art of misremembering – a reminder of how memories can be skewed, transformed, and even absorbed over time. As Ocean wrote in reflection of his recent life in an accompanying Tumblr post: “in my rearview mirror it’s getting small enough to convince myself it was all good.”
Blond[e], as a collection of songs, feels erratic more often than organic – certainly compared to Channel ORANGE. But for those who critique the patchwork nature of the album, its apparent unevenness, how it seems “stitched together”, or that a “few standout songs” don’t necessarily make for a cohesive album, there is a vital missing of the point. With 44 credited contributors, some of them literal and some very much spiritual, over 17 songs – a mix of atmospheric ambience (Siegfried), slow beats (Nikes), fast verses (Solo (Reprise)), and reaching, often distorted falsetto (Ivy) – the only thought given to consistency is that consistency has no place in reality or the narrative arc of this album.
Frank Ocean knows that, as individuals, we’re built from our memories – and that memory, in short, is messy. The crass question of whether or not Blond[e] was “worth waiting for” is, as ever, one not actually worth answering. “Who was I while I waited?” Now, that’s something worth thinking about.