Let’s admit it, the real reason Blonde was so highly anticipated was for the resulting Jukebox reviews…
Alfred Soto: Because days are weeks in the internet hypercycle, listeners should have had chance by now to form an opinion: Facebook needs you. Manipulating a voice already distinguished for an empathy indifferent to strong melody, Frank Ocean sounds like a blues crooner summoned with a ouija board to testify about the wages of greed. An undistorted Ocean raps much better than he sings in the second verse. From Robert Johnson to PJ Harvey those who summon the blues regard the form as prayer while still reveling in the sin — or at least the memory of sin. Ocean’s one of the few practitioners who eschews pleasure; it’s possible that’s why he leaves me unmoved.
Katie Gill: I’m sure the Internet’s already published thinkpieces about the interplay between the sped-up vocals and the slowed-down vocals because Frank Ocean is a Very Big Deal that I straight up admit I don’t get, but Frank Ocean legitimately uses a chipmunk voice in one of the first songs to promote his new album and I just can’t get past the utter absurdity of that. This song is full of deliberate actions that come off as giant misses or too experimental for their own good, the musical equivalent of a bad poetry jam you were dragged to as an undergrad. It’s sonic landscape is haphazard and rocky as hell. Add in a couple of references that I’m not sure if they’re well-placed or just tacky and this song comes across as an exercise in dubious taste.
Edward Okulicz: The sped up/slowed down vocal interplay is stale and shows Ocean isn’t as innovative with playing with voice as Young Thug or, let’s be honest, him out of Babylon Zoo. Ocean is torturing me all the way to the bank. Some points because I really like the last minute or so because its breathless desperation sounds like it means something.
Gin Hart: This song is so sad. The production — sludgy OFWGKTA-style narration, that angelic voice Auto-Tuned and half-spoken, the skipping heartbeat beat — and lyrics listen like an improvised dirge. Frank’s speaking his mind, which wanders with heavy pockets through the American night. Nikes are the jump off, but they’re no refrain. Trailing in with a cry and out with a vulnerable heart’s paranoia, the track arguably deserves criticism for its relative formlessness, but for my part I love it. I love how it commits to its sorrowful, exhausted multiplicity (interior poverties, exterior wealth, surrounding cruelties both grave and frivolous), especially from an artist who knows how to crisp up the soggy edges of our most maudlin human, pop-song-worthy feelings.
Ashley Ellerson: “Nikes” is a wave of emotions and commentary that one can expect from an Ocean. Frank’s vocals are dreamy and wet throughout, drowning in substance while wading towards something (and someone) more fulfilling. It’s settling and floating behind someone who never chooses you first because they still care about you and “that’s good enough.” It’s watching the people around you choke on the waters of materialism while you swallow their tainted gestures (“We don’t talk much or nothin’/But when we talkin’ about something / We have good discussion”). It’s sacrificing more and more of yourself for this person, slipping further under their waters, while willing for change by repeating “I’ll mean something to you” as you are submerged by their existence.
Jonathan Bogart: Eric Harvey has lived to regret the very 2011 formulation PBR&B, so it’s with a heaping serving of chutzpah that I suggest that what Frank Ocean is making is R(adiohead)&B — his heavily textured, paranoid, densely literate, technophilic/technophobic, pretentious/populist, critically-salivated-over (but also with a devoted fanbase), and more or less perplexing to the casual listener music reminds me of nothing more than the early 2000s. (There is, of course, plenty of R&B precedent as well, most obviously R. Kelly, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder.) And where Jonny Greenwood’s massed guitars often came in as a rockist relief from the glitchy landscape, Frank’s angelic voice, either untreated or slipstreamed by Auto-Tune, remains his vital tether to the velveteen, horny, and deeply political history of R&B.