It’s just as well Frank Ocean’s second full-length album is as stunningly accomplished as it. A pre-release circus that saw the Los Angeles-based singer and producer repeatedly postpone its release had threatened to deprive the 28-year-old of the goodwill engendered by 2012’s Channel Orange.
Yet the chaotic circumstances in which Blonde (styled ‘Blond’ on the sleeve) came into the world are quickly forgotten as it becomes clear Ocean, a collaborator with Beyoncé, Kanye and Justin Bieber, has crafted his masterpiece.
As exemplified by single ‘Nike’, the tone throughout is transcendentally woozy, Ocean’s lyrics a syrupy swirl supplemented by dreamy beats and exquisite melodies (in a very good way he sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks channelling Cocteau Twins).
The trippiness occasionally tips into fever dream, such as on ‘Solo’, where he appears to recount a visit to an abortion clinic, and ‘Nights’, a lament for the New Orleans where he grew up and which was lost forever when Katrina struck. Studio hook-ups are meanwhile kept to a minimum. Beyoncé has a credited appearance, along with Kendrick Lamar and Brian Eno — but if you didn’t know, they would be easily missed.
Quietly put out last weekend, Blonde is already weighed down with album of the year superlatives. It’s obviously too early to say whether the record will hold up. However, even the most cursory of listens will confirm that Ocean has wrought something special — a tender, creepy voyage inwards that thrills and chills and casts a singularly eerie spell.
Ocean is said to chafe at being categorised as a “mere” r’n’b artist — whatever the truth, Blonde transcends genre and soars high on its own mysterious vapours. Here is a journey into the unknown you won’t want to end.