Frank Ocean is finally back in full force, with a new visual album called Endless, a standalone video, free-magazine pop-up shops, and most important, a new non-visual album. Blonde follows 2012’s acclaimed Channel Orange with more risks and detours constructed around Ocean’s natural vocal gifts and daring vision.
So Blonde is here, and so is our instant track-by-track analysis. Consider this a premature evaluation of an album we’re going to be spending a lot more time with; more importantly, it’s a guide to what listeners should look out for over the course of the album’s 17 songs.
1. "Nikes" - Frank returns with a materialistic credo on the woozy “Nikes,” having a conversation with himself and declaring that while others try to predict the future, “we gon’ see the future first.” It’s a fitting start for an album that tries to capture a singular viewpoint with unyielding ambition.
2. "Ivy" - The experimental “Nikes” is followed by a song that caters to every Frank Ocean fan that doesn’t care about staircases or visual albums, and simply wants to hear Frank Ocean sing a great, emotional chorus. The regret on “Ivy” is palpable; the songwriting on the careful, relatively stripped-down track is magical.
3. "Pink + White" - The summery shimmer of “Pink + White” is highlighted by strings that pull back during the second verse...oh, and Beyoncé providing backing vocals on the outro. It’s easy to forget how stunningly smooth Ocean’s vocals can be; “Pink + White” is a helpful reminder.
4. "Be Yourself" - The first interlude comes from a mother (Frank's? No?) leaving a scolding voicemail. “Do not smoke marijuana, do not consume alcohol,” she chides. “This is Mom. Call me. Bye.”
5. "Solo" - An ode to shutting out the world and how the world so often refuses to let you do so, “Solo” radiates gospel and embraces the “solo”/“so low” double meaning. Following an interlude that warns against drugs, “Solo” exists in an arresting haze reminiscent of the blinking red lights that Ocean finds so hypnotic.
6. "Skyline To" - Another song that feels as if it’s starting in media res before retreating to swim in the ether, “Skyline To” allows Ocean to tinker with his vocal delivery, toss in ad-libs and make more weed references. One funny line: “That’s a pretty fucking fast year flew by.” Uhh, sure, Frank...but what about the other three since Channel Orange?!
7. "Self Control" - A classic heartbroken ballad that stands among Ocean’s very best. Even when his ex has moved on and found someone new, he needs to be a sorrowful presence in their relationship: “Keep a place for me, for me / I’ll sleep between you, it’s nothing.”
8. "Good Guy" - A quick interlude looking back on a date that was more memorable for Frank than it was for his partner. This is Blonde’s version of "Fertilizer"—as in, we want more of this story!
9. "Nights" - It’s hard to pay close attention to Ocean’s lyricism when the beat switches up and blossoms into something more smoky and percolating, but the second half of “Nights” contains some of his most personally revealing lines to date, including Frank’s journey to Houston and his desperation in trying to find a way out.
10. "Solo (Reprise)" - Like Channel Orange, Blonde boasts an absolutely scorching Andre 3000 verse, this time as the entirety of “Solo (Reprise).” Key line: “After 20 years in / I’m so naive, I was under the impression that every wrote their own verse / It’s coming back different...and yeah, that shit hurts me.” Damn.
11. "Pretty Sweet" - Intense and inscrutable as any song you’re likely to hear on a major release. What exactly is being detailed on “Pretty Sweet,” between the mortality and children’s choir? Just strap in and enjoy the vibes.
12. "Facebook Story" - The producer SebastiAn recounts a story of how a denied Facebook request tore apart his stable relationship. Fascinating? Sure. Confusing within the context of this album? Maybe, but don’t discount SebastiAn’s (and Frank’s) social media warnings.
13. "Close to You" - Hands down the coolest version of The Carpenters’ “Close to You” you’re ever going to hear, with bullet-time production and viscous vocals poured over them. After four songs in a row that all run under three minutes long, it’s clear that Ocean is working out some delectable experiments in the middle of Blonde.
14. "White Ferrari" - When you’re taking the final car ride ever with someone you care about, you realize how often you’ve taken the other car rides for granted. “White Ferrari” is that slow gulp of reality, with a pleading outro that hits you right in the gut.
15. "Seigfried" - Remember, this is Frank Ocean’s first album since blowing up as a mainstream recording artist with multiple GRAMMY nominations and commercial power. “Seigfried” is a reflection on that reality, as well as bravery, nirvana (a concept that comes up earlier in Blonde), sex and Elliott Smith.
16. "Godspeed" - This is the sound of Frank Ocean taking us back to church, with glory and an organ, and lord, does it feel good to have this sound exist. Even if Frank isn’t getting his happy ending on this song, he has made peace with his situation.
17. "Futura Free - The sprawling opus that serves as a de facto sequel to Channel Orange’s “Pyramids” and ends Blonde because, really, nothing else could follow this. “Futura Free” once again toys with Frank’s voice and origin story, but with riveting detail, from his sexual encounters on his birthday to Jay-Z sending him personal emails. Plus: a hidden track! Thank you for this, Frank.
Listen to the Back of the Class guys talk Frank Ocean below: