Staff Pick of the Week: Sydney, Program Director
“Blonde” has a special place in my heart. In the months I moved away from home and began going through life entirely on my own for the first time, this is the album I listened to the most. During that transitional and confusing period, “Blonde” felt like an old friend guiding me through the new challenges I faced being away from home. Even now, I still feel that same comfort. With that being said, here’s my Spinnaker staff pick of the week album review:
“BLONDE” TRACK-BY-TRACK REVIEW
Nikes: Opening the album with slow synths and distorted, high-pitched vocals, lead single “Nikes” lets the listener know what’s to come for the next hour. It’s a condemnation of materialism, with Ocean offering commentary on how the lifestyles of the rich and famous are not always what it appears to be. The glitter and gold mean nothing if you don’t have genuine relationships with people to share it with.
Ivy: The second track primarily focuses on Ocean’s smooth vocals, with quiet synths and hazy guitars offering support. It’s a nostalgia trip — in Ivy, Ocean reminisces on first love, gently singing “we had time to kill back then…we’ll never be those kids again.” Though the relationship is over, the feelings associated with first love and lessons learned still linger long after.
Pink + White: This is the first track on the album that grabbed my attention. Featuring backup vocals from Beyonce, a driving drum beat and piano melody, and descriptive lyricism, this is a standout track. A New Orleans native, Ocean describes the suffering he faced as a college student in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and offers this song as an ode to a lost loved one. The lyrics paint a vivid picture in the mind of the listeners, opening verse two with “In the wake of a hurricane, dark skin of a summer shade, nosedive into flood lines…if you could die and come back to life, up for air from the swimming pool…”. It’s an introspective look into life in the wake of tragedy.
Be Yourself: The first interlude of the album, Be Yourself, is a voicemail of a concerned mother giving her college student life advice. She warns of substance abuse and encourages her child to stay true to themselves during the transitional period all college students face. It’s a prime example of generational disconnect, however. The narrator is encouraging the listener to be themselves; so long as it fits with the idea of what her generation deems to be acceptable.
Solo: Much like the title suggests, track five examines being alone. It’s a proclamation to living life solo — yet, with nothing but a slow synth in the background, the song invokes a sense of longing and loneliness. It’s also a double entendre of sorts. Ocean feels empowered and free by only having responsibilities to himself and living solo, yet he’s “so low”. It’s a recognizable feeling for anyone who has had their “coming of age” moment and stepped into the real world.
Skyline To: Acting as another interlude, Ocean sings and raps over nothing but quiet synths and a handpicked guitar. It’s a commentary on summertime and nightlife, in which it’s “not as long as it used to be…”. Ocean also incorporates pop culture references, such as Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Californication”.
Self Control: Another standout track on the album, “Self Control” is a slow ballad examining a relationship that’s falling apart. Ocean’s vocals shine here — with nothing but an acoustic guitar that leads to a slow build-up of violins, his talent is undeniable. The production is additionally stellar. In what’s arguably the best part of the song, the outro features Ocean’s stacked and harmonized vocals; an agonizing chant of “I know you gotta leave, take down some summertime, give us just tonight, I know you got someone coming…”. It’s gut-wrenching and beautiful and I never want to stop listening to it.
Good Guy: The third interlude on the album features hazy vocals and an almost non-existent synth. With a 1:06 running time, Ocean manages to paint a picture of a disappointing blind date and the loneliness that comes from encounters leading to nowhere. In a generation all too familiar with the struggles of online dating, it’s especially relevant. The interlude is poignant, as Ocean touches on his sexuality and the difficulty he feels fitting in with his straight peers.
Nights: This is easily the best song on “Blonde”. The song is divided into two parts — the first notable for chiming guitars, synths reminiscent of an early Prince song, and reliant on Ocean’s rapping rather than singing. In this part, Ocean discusses a previous relationship and the highs and lows associated with it. Following an increasingly high pitched guitar note, the song comes to a halt and switches into slow, somber synths, highlighted by Ocean’s monotonous recollection of life after Hurricane Katrina. He recalls how he relied on his former partner following Katrina and the rough nights he experienced as a result. It’s a phenomenal song — especially notable due to the song being divided into two parts; a potential metaphor representing the “highs” and “lows” of his former relationship and nightlife he experienced. “Nights” also acts as the halfway point of “Blonde” and indicates a change in scenery is to come regarding the flow of the album. If there’s only one song to listen to “Blonde,” this is the one.
Solo (Reprise): Another interlude reminiscent of the same themes exhibited in “Solo,” but with one difference: it’s Andre 3000 rapping! Short and sweet, it’s a nice change of pace from the slow burn of the first half of the album.
Pretty Sweet: Possibly the boldest song on “Blonde,” this track isn’t heavily reliant on lyrics — rather, the experimental instrumentation. Mirroring the scattered, unstructured lyrics, the song quickly moves at the 1:40 mark to fast-paced synths, strings, and features a children’s choir. This is the type of song where you love it or hate it, with no in-between — and I love it.
Facebook Story: This is a skit from a French producer that details the disconnect between real-life relationships and the influence social media has on them. This skit furthers Ocean’s disenchantment with media, a theme heavily embodied in the way he chooses to manage his image and career.
Close To You: Ocean’s version of “Close To You” is one of many covers — from the Carpenters to Stevie Wonder, Ocean has added his name to the list of artists taking their spin on this timeless song. Ocean’s version is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s interpretation, yet Ocean still adds his style to it. The song is characterized by distorted, synthesized vocals, and a consistent drum machine beat. This is my least favorite on the album — but not bad by any means.
White Ferrari: Another standout track! Ocean sings about another past relationship — one he may not quite be over yet. Heartbreaking and poignant, his vocals are especially stunning. Only relying on a strummed guitar and synths, you can hear the vulnerability in his voice. Similar to themes in “Ivy,” the love he expresses is permanent, even after it’s over.
Seigfried: This song is a more widespread view of his past relationships and how those have contributed to his inner life, rather than focusing on just one. It’s a testament to his coping mechanisms and the importance of allowing oneself to feel emotions as they come, rather than bottling them up.
Godspeed: Though this song focuses on a break-up, it offers a different perspective than other tracks: Ocean is the one to be saying goodbye. Yet, instead of expressing distaste or bitterness, he embraces respect, stating “…I’ll always be there for you how I do, I let go of my claim on you…” It’s a fresh take on a break-up song and leaves the listener with a feeling of being supported and comforted.
Futura Free: Frank Ocean sends listeners off with a whopping nine-minute ode divided into two parts, similar to “Nights.” Incorporating keyboards, pianos, synthesizers, and vocal distortion, it encompasses the musical themes seen in all of “Blonde.” It’s a farewell, but also a reflection on his life. He examines the impact that fame has had on his coming to terms with his sexuality and references pop culture figures who have died as a result of their fame. It’s a heavy song, yet a poignant statement on his fears and dreams thus far.
“Blonde” is a slow-burn. It reels you in from the first synth and refuses to let you go, even far after the album is finished. It’s the concert you never want to end; the first date you can’t stop replaying in your mind when you’re home. Ocean combines genres and still creates his own in the process, a feat few artists successfully achieve; compiled with stunning lyricism. His words cut to the bone: from mulling over regrets in “Ivy” to disentangling infatuation from love in “Self Control” — there is something for everyone.
Standout Tracks: “Pink + White,” “Self Control,” “Nights,” “White Ferrari,” “Futura Free”
For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected]