The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here, as after four years the musical genius known as Frank Ocean has released his Sophomore album on a major (or perhaps not), following up his classic debut Channel Orange and the indie release of Nostalgia, Ultra that both were met with critical acclaim. With that in mind Ocean has given us his fare share of music throughout the years, yet considering only one was on a major, there are many that believe that the celebrated artist still has a lot more to prove. While I agree with that sentiment it also should be noted that the music should always come first, and keeping in mind that Ocean even has more great records (Blasted, Bricks & Steel, etc.) that are more or less miscellaneous and without a home, true admirers of the music shouldn’t really be concerned with the business involved - and that includes the rumors that he indeed released this independently (supposively under his new Boys Don’t Cry imprint) and instead gave the label throwaways (the Endless project that was released a week prior - and appropriately has faded into oblivion) which is certainly a controversial business tactic yet is rather inconsequential as it makes no visible impact on the quality of the music.
Thus without further ado this is essentially Ocean’s THIRD high profile release since he became a household name in the late 2000s, and while it’s for the most part a project with many highs and many lows, all of it is critiqued in great detail track by track below as a contribution to the many think pieces and round table discussions that follow Ocean’s every move…
"Pour up for A$AP, RIP Pimp C, RIP Trayvon, that ***** look just like me" For the intro to the most anticipated R&B album in almost 5 years, Ocean deliberately drowns his beautiful voice with a played out synthesizer, accompanied by an average melody and decent lyrics (that are certainly relatable and culturally significant, yet aren’t framed in any way that’s particularly masterful). Overall it’s a polarizing record that you’re likely to either love or hate, but thankfully for the albums sake there’s some undeniable quality that lies behind it.
Frank Ocean - Ivy
"I thought that I was dreaming when you said you loved me..." Took a few spins to fully appreciate but this is classic Ocean right here, smooth, melodic, and heartfelt lyrics that seep deeper into your soul the more times you listen. One of the best records on the album and when all the hype fades away this one will still be standing.
Frank Ocean - Pink + White
"That's the way everyday goes, every time we have no control, if the sky is pink and white, if the ground is black and yellow..." The first thing you hear is the wonderful instrumental, in which case Ocean's stellar resume and overall mystique would lead you to wonder if the music behind the lyrics is Ocean's genius as well - yet while that's often the case throughout his career, on this particular track he got an assist from both Pharell and Tyler the Creator, and all three of them certainly deliver in producing one of the most complete records on the album.
"When people become weed heads they become sluggish, lazy, and unconcerned... sluggish, lazy, and unconcerned." Mrs. Ocean takes a couple minutes to spit some propaganda that every caring mother has entertained at one point, yet it’s purpose on the album is relatively cryptic considering Ocean has always creatively touched on drug use in his music (even more literally than metaphorically), including the very next record which I presume is supposed to highlight an apparent irony. All the same this is a skit you will never want to play more than once, and I fail to see the appeal of it.
“I got that act right in the windy city that night, no trees to blow through, but blow me and I owe you, two grams when the sunrise” One of the album's smoothest records, this one is somewhat reminiscent of the Channel Orange sound that put Ocean in a different category of artistry, and while the new album is far too eclectic to be able to call it after one week - this is one of its best moments as far as first impressions go.
"Summer's not as long as it used to be... every day counts like crazy..." Other than a few short moments this is the first sight of indisputable filler on the album, as this one isn’t likely to truly grab you until after 10+ spins, and by that point it’s fair to wonder if it’s really that good or if you’ve just listened to it enough times where it’s become ingrained in your memory by default - [see every luke warm (or trash) radio single that you can recite word for word off sheer repetition to get the idea] - although lyrically this one does deliver - as is the case throughout the album.
Self Control ft Austin Feinstein
“You cut your hair but you used to live a blinded life, wish I was there, wish we had grown up on the same advice, and our time was right…” One of the records that immediately stood out the most - Frank taps into the vulnerability found in any man or woman lost in lust or love - highlighted by an outro that is timeless music and a fantastic addition to Ocean’s already incredible catalogue.
"Here's to our good guy..." SKIP! thankfully it’s only a one minute interlude but it’s a complete waste of time. nothing to see here and if his die hards tell you different they're drinking Ocean water like Kool Aid - pause - and they need to cut it out. this is weak and serves no purpose.
"Every night fucks every day up, every day patches the night up, on God you should match it, it's that KO, no white lighters til I fuck my 28th up" Upon further review the best record on the album, this one has been likened to Pyramids from his previous masterpiece Channel Orange - and that’s partially because they both dramatically split halfway through both musically and melodically - yet Ocean’s creativity once again finds a way to make it work - and this one will stay in your head day and night depending on which melody you heard last.
Solo (Reprise) ft Andre 3000
“After 20 years in, I'm so naive I was under the impression that everyone wrote they own verses, It's comin' back different and yea that shit hurts me” Andre 3000 annihilates his featured verse, and with this shot at Drake (or potentially Kanye - people sleep on Kanye's borrowed work - he's an 'offender' as well) he arguably has the most memorable moment on the entire project.
"We know you're sugar, we know you're sweet like a sucker" After Andre 3000’s moment the album unfortunately veers in a downward spiral, starting with this record which once again feels like an interlude (a few too many on this album) yet considering the length of almost 3 minutes this is arguably the biggest disappointment, as even a change of tempo in the final minute does nothing to make you ever want to play this record again.
"And Facebook arrived... and she wanted me to accept her on Facebook" Another skit/interlude (yawn) and this is garbage. By my count that’s already 4 through 12 records and now I’m starting to feel relatively cheated, as once again this is nothing short of a complete waste of time.
Close To You
"I run my hands through what's left, but we're getting older baby, how much longer baby?" And ANOTHER interlude (ZZZzzzzzzzzz) yet this one has a decent melody at least, yet clocking in at less than 1:30 this is essentially only more filler on an album that is rather misleadingly in it’s hour in length - considering seemingly 25 minutes of it is void of Ocean’s talent and genius.
"Bad luck to talk on these rides, mind on the road, your dilated eyes watch the clouds float White Ferrari, had a good time..." Not his best but this is at least an actual record (including 3000’s verse the first one in 5 tracks), and if you listen to it enough times you’re likely to find endearing qualities in it - yet again it’s mostly forgettable and shouldn’t be recommended to anyone outside of the internet hype beasts who love anything with his name on it.
"I'm living over city, and taking in the homeless sometimes, been living in an idea, an idea from another man's mind" Fire lyrics but similar to the previous record, this one will not resonate with you until after multiple listens, and then separate from his words there’s really nothing musical to get excited about - although the instrumentation at the 3 minute mark is reminiscent of a good film score which does give the album some added mystique - not that it needs it.
"I will always love you... how I do..." This one is nice… nothing crazy…. earth shattering, mind blowing, or anything of the sort… but it’s a nice record… but even still I probably wouldn’t recommend it.
"Play these songs, it's therapy momma, they paying me momma, I should be paying them" The grand finale comes in at 9 minutes and 24 seconds and the last 5 minutes isn’t even music… just incoherent nonsense and filler that is impossible to listen to and once again doesn’t benefit the album whatsoever. The first 4+ minutes does have some moments but none that are really worth mentioning… that is if you don’t jump out the window any time he actually makes an effort… and even then this one is ultimately debatable. Far from his best but not his worst, and honestly on this turbulent album that’s not really saying much.
Overall this album is doing a lot, but unfortunately not enough of it is just music, beautiful music that Ocean can deliver better than most - yet this time it’s undoubtedly abstract to a fault (Good Guy, Pretty Sweet, White Ferrari, etc.) and is inevitably drained by irrelevant interludes that are far too frequent and offer no music at all (Be Yourself, Facebook Story, last 5 minutes of Futura Free), while the indisputable highlights Ivy, Solo, Self Control, Solo (Reprise), and Nights do serve as a firm reminder that Ocean is indeed one of the best in the business. In conclusion this project has enough (though barely) to satisfy those who loved his previous releases and had longed for a new record to come… yet in the end it’s fair to question if he truly wanted to release the album right now or ever at all… and if we perhaps had waited longer we may have gotten something far more everlasting.