A few years and a Ryan Lochte-like “over-exaggeration” about a 2015 release later, Frank Ocean released the proper follow-up to 2012’s channel ORANGE over the weekend with Blonde. (Endless, the visual album he released earlier, is good but not the true sophomore effort, if any of that cataloging even matters anymore.) The most immediate question about the new album, which was once known as Boys Don’t Cry, is whether or not it was worth wait. The answer is yes, and and also seems to be the kind of album that calls for extra effort (and listens) from the listener in order to discover all its strengths.
You might have some other contemporary Black male singers in mind for that title, but more often than not so many of those artists merely wear a superficial aesthetics of emotion. Sure, the songs sound sad sonically; the production is sparse, making the vocals, detached, feel like you’re listening to someone pouring his soul out. But, lyrically, so much of the material is drowning in lust (which is useful, but different), or frankly, of that subgenre some refer to as fuckboy ‘n B: whiny, defensive, and stubbornly unwilling to offer any indication of emotional intelligence.
When you compare those artists to Ocean, you realize how distinct his gift for vulnerability and introspection (not to mention surprising, writerly language) really is. His words come across as genuine, and as others have recently highlighted, force the listener to wrestle with their own emotions about subjects like mortality, failure, unrequited love, and specifically, the pain and necessary reflection that comes with it. The album may no longer be called Boys Don’t Cry, but Ocean paints himself as separate from other men who generally avoid anything that isn’t driven by hyper-masculine ego, bypassing sincerity in an effort to remain “cool.”
You hear this on “Seigfried,” where Ocean laments that he’s “not brave” while singing lines like, “I couldn’t gauge your fears/I can’t relate to my peers/I’d rather live outside/I’d rather chip my pride than lose my mind out here.”
Or when he mulls over a failed relationship on “Ivy,” singing, “I thought that I was dreaming when you said love me.”
Or on every second of “Solo.”
And when he very casually notes “here’s to the gay bar you took me to” on “Good Guy.” Until there is a day when Ocean’s assumed bisexuality and his singing about unrequited love for a man does not make him, a Black man, an anomaly in mainstream music, even the most casual reference to otherness will be a big deal to those of us who see no parts of ourselves in this culture.
Read the rest at Complex.