I didn’t love it. One listen in and I was struck by a disorienting pang of fear, my mind raced. What the heck was that? Who the hell makes an album with barely any percussion anyways? Have I been made a fool for four years of obsessive internet deep dives and hopeless information hunting? What if my favorite musician on the planet released an album that I genuinely couldn’t get behind? After these fears subsided, I took a deep breath and did what I have been doing ever since… I dove back in.
Usually, I would focus much of my attention on evaluating an album when writing about it. But with Blonde, I will get that little detail out of the way so I can focus exclusively on the bigger picture (which is kind of the whole idea of the album anyway) -- The album is a masterpiece. It is ballsy as hell and unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. It is already occupying that strange realm that classics do; one where it can feel excitingly alien and as familiar as home at the same time. Reviews of Blonde have been overwhelmingly positive and I think it will end up being regarded as a timeless classic because of the great humanity throughout the lyrics and just how bold the music consistently is. The album’s timeless human themes of love, spirituality, and the struggle for real human connection are what I fixate on most.
With more listens, Blonde has had me thinking about a Nina Simone vocal sample from noname’s excellent Telefone mixtape. She says, “It’s like how do you tell somebody how it feels to be in love? How are you going to tell anybody who has not been in love how it feels to be in love? You cannot do it to save your life. You can describe things, but you can’t tell them.” Throughout human history, there are two things that man simply has not been able to adequately describe: God and love. And the most bizarre part of that is that we all are able to feel, with complete certainty, one of those. So much of our artistic expression is obsessed with taking on love, but it is a fool’s errand. We will never box something that only becomes more cosmic and truly divine when you really think about it. Something so intensely personal, yet universal. And that is what I think it so special about Blonde. So much of the album revolves around human connection, alienation, and a character sketch of love from the view of the heartbroken. The endeavor of loving and being loved is made to be something that it really is… Something divine in scope.
It is through the lens of heartbreak and alienation that Frank is so deftly able to come close to describe the intimate and mysterious internal worlds that love creates. Some of his strongest songs on the album (“Self Control”,“White Ferrari”, and “Ivy”) positively tremble with anguish as Frank examines a world built with someone else that crumbled. Through much of the work, the deep pain of losing real human connection only reveals how truly grand the connection was in the first place. And that is what I think Frank was trying to accomplish on the album. Maybe it is the optimist in me, but I think that by shining a light on when connections break and isolation sets in, he is able to convey just how insane, mysterious, and magnificent loving connection is in the first place.
Throughout Channel Orange, Frank surveyed a diverse array of characters to create something great out of small pieces. With short character sketches, he is so gifted at saying so much with so little. The sheer desperation of the man on “Crack Rock”, the misplaced pride of the red ruby rockin’ pimp in “Pyramids”, the blunted and bored privilege throughout “Super Rich Kids” all perfectly summarized with a line or couplet. What I love so much about Blonde, is that his character sketches consistently revolve around the same thematic material. Rather than scattershot narratives that piece together into one cohesive work, he zooms out as far as possible on specific and personal themes to provide as much scope as possible. Through his wide lens of mourning and nostalgia, mortality and spirituality become even more prevalent. It is a big record.
With that said, the album does not always seek to be a cosmic examination of love and spirit. For me, it could have been too self-serious were that the case. There are grounding moments where Frank dwells in the times and brings us out of the abstract once more. Whether through pop-culture and political references (FKA Twigs is forever a mermaid now… RIP TRAYVON), references to sexuality (gay bar cheers), or more hedonistic id driven sketches (“Solo” and most of “Nights”), many of these songs allow for Frank to examine his and our more human qualities, bringing greater diversity to his music and tone. Often, they bring about the more carefree and loose moments throughout the album. At the risk of contradicting this entire essay, don’t even think about giving me that kumbaya shit!
At the risk of morbidity, the truth is that all of our loving connections will all break and float away. Mortality is the great equalizer in that regard. As disheartening as that can be, for me, the greatest moments on Blonde are reminders that you should always seek to build love and connection in your life. Like a house of cards, your relationships will inevitably eventually crumble for one reason or another. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build something truly magnificent in the meantime.