You’ve put up with a ton of bullshit from Frank Ocean lo these last few days, weeks, months, years. So many delays, so many useless reblogged rumors, so much Apple-abetted pomposity. Just the other night, you stayed up until all hours watching him take a (gorgeously filmed) woodshop class to the strains of a (gorgeously scattered) hookless notebook dump of a visual album called, yes, Endless. Plenty to unpack there in the days, weeks, months, years to come! Endless is Fine. But don’t bother trying to convince yourself it’s Good Enough. It has very few actual songs (or, at least, ones that weren’t written by the Isley Brothers), and no truly great ones. You deserve a truly great new Frank Ocean song. But soft! What light through yonder browser window breaks! It is the east, and “Solo” is the sun. Thank you, Frank. And you’re welcome.
“Solo” arrives five tracks into Blonde, the no-more-bullshit 17-track album that finally arrived Saturday night as an Apple Music exclusive and as a CD inset to a zine that you could buy at heavily mobbed pop-up shops in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and London. (The zine is called Boys Don’t Cry, after this record’s long-threatened title, which was on the verge of becoming a fully fledged Chinese Democracy–esque punch line; both the zine and the exclusive stream are equally irritating delivery systems.) It is immediately evident that Blonde is the real deal, a premier artist trying really hard, kicking off as it does with “Nikes,” a woozy, syrupy, celebratory crawl of shame with pitched-up vocals that is immediately funnier …
… and more energized and serious and dialed in to our visceral, terrible present moment …
… than anything on the #endless promo tour that preceded it. The video, released Saturday morning, is a lurid and alluring softcore-porn smear; Frank drops to his normal register for the song’s second half, flaunting as delicate and dexterous and winsomely deviant a voice as 21st-century R&B has to offer, purring, “We’re not in love, but I’ll make love to you … I’m not him, but I’ll mean something to you” before sliding up to falsetto for one last, devastating aside:
He’s here! The guy worth caring about; the guy capable of justifying all that false-start hype. “Ivy” is a gently strummed and expertly crooned breakup-lament sorta deal (“I ain’t a kid no more / We’ll never be those kids again”); “Pink + White” is a throwback-soul golden-hour waltz with spectral and hilariously casual backup vocals from … Beyoncé. “Be Yourself” is a voicemail, allegedly from Frank’s mother, imploring Frank not to drink or use drugs, as “weedheads” inevitably become “sluggish, lazy, stupid, and unconcerned.” And then it’s showtime.
“Solo” starts off with the lines “Hand me a towel / I’m dirty dancing / By myself / Gone off tabs / Of that acid,” which, yeah, that’s also pretty funny. (Sorry, Ma.) It’s mostly just cheerful church organ and Frank’s voice at its most conversational, gathering power as he glides into the honest-to-god hook of the honest-to-god chorus:
(I will also accept “In hell, in hell, there’s heaven.” I might prefer it, actually.)
This is a lost-love song, Sunday morning coming down and Saturday night rising to greet it, the result the more hopeful inverse of Channel Orange’s shattering “Bad Religion.” The mildly salacious verses build on each other, so this:
… gives way to this:
Frank’s genius, if genius is what you choose to call it, resides in the line “Stayed up till my phone died” — the way he updates classic wounded-lover-man yearning for a generation that receives its prestige albums via streaming-service exclusives and pretentious social media stunts. (Free song title: “I Second That Emoji.”) Blonde is mostly love songs, and revels in its seasonal affective disorder: Chance the Rapper’s mournful but rousing “Summer Friends” is its true north. “Skyline To” (“Summer’s not as long as it used to be / Every day counts like crazy”) and “Self Control” (“I’ll be your boyfriend in your wet dreams tonight”) are deftly strummed bonfire guitar jams, sublime in their Sublimity; “Good Guy” is an electric-piano throwaway that still manages to toss off another one of Those Lines: “You text nothing like you look.”
Blonde’s back half is weirder, druggier, harder to unpack, and possibly even more rewarding in the long run. Nervous, wandering suites (“This feel like a quaalude,” goes the clearest and truest line in the disorienting “Nights”) rub up against quick sketches and oddball cameos. A bemused friend (possibly the French producer Sebastian) tells the story of being dumped by a long-term girlfriend because he wouldn’t add her on Facebook; none other than André 3000 shows up for a quick standalone verse on “Solo (Reprise),” lamenting police shootings, worsening male-female relations, and rappers who use ghostwriters (hmm) with equal gravity and unmatched charisma. (“I am no rookie but feel like a kid,” is his clearest and truest line.) The spacey, unhurried ballad “Seigfried” quotes Elliott Smith’s “A Fond Farewell”; the numb and scattered and increasingly great “White Ferrari” nods briefly to the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere.” (That one might hit you as hard later as “Solo” hits you now.)
We wrap up with “Futura Free,” a bleary-sunrise ramble that vacillates between bravado (“I ain’t on your schedule / I ain’t on no schedule / I ain’t had me a job since 2009”) and something resembling humility:
There is depth here, layers to unravel, rabbit holes to plunder. But your immediate reaction to Blonde will likely just be joy at how immediate many of its pleasures are — that it doesn’t just marinate in lovely but frustrating art-damaged obfuscation. “Solo” is the first song on the record to prove itself worthy of the myth. Listen closely, and it won’t be the last.