Endless (visual album) (released August 19, 2016)
For four years, Frank Ocean’s fans have been screaming for a sequel to his heralded Channel Orange debut.
Well, now we’ve got one.
Sort of. I mean, I guess.
After weeks of teases, social media speculation and live streams of weird woodshop projects, Ocean finally dropped a new visual album in the wee hours of Friday morning.
But don’t raise your hopes too high: This album isn’t Boys Don’t Cry, the supposed Channel Orange follow-up that is quickly reaching Detox levels of infamy. That album allegedly will surface later this weekend.
Just when you think you have the answers, Frank changes the questions. He revels in that unpredictability.
So consider Endless, Ocean’s latest release, an appetizer for Boys Don’t Cry, or whatever he’s calling it this week. It’s hard to even call Endless an album – it’s more like a stream of musical consciousness to accompany his Apple Music visual project. The “visual” portion of this album isn’t much to write home about – it’s all carpentry and staircases and ramblings about cell phones and not at all worth your time. Lemonade, it ain’t.
I’m just here for the music. And as disjointed as Endless can be at times, it still features some very engrossing tracks.
The biggest buzz online has focused on Frank’s cover of the Isley Bros’ “(At Your Best) You Are Love” (which actually popped up online last summer during one of Ocean’s many, many false starts). Its strength is in its airiness – the wispy vocals feel more like Aaliyah’s cover than the Isley original and is much more suited for Frank’s delivery.
That track isn’t indicative of the album, though, which runs the gamut of stylings.
Moody R&B is all the rage in 2016 – in fact, we’re reaching the oversaturation point with all these thug tears on the airwaves – but you can’t forget that a half-decade ago, Frank was leading that charge. We get snippets of those sounds throughout the album, in both brief interludes and on “In Here Somewhere,” with warped, wobbly production that would make The Weeknd’s mouth water.
“Mine” is unequivocally hip-hop, where Frank rattles off quotable one-liners (“My crew saved your crew like n****s came through with the Groupons”). He croons over tropical-tinged guitar licks on “Slide On Me” and glides through the infectious synths of the criminally brief “Commes des Garcons.” They’re great listens but those kinds of listens are few and far between.
Very few tracks feel like fully-formed songs, with only those above and the final tracks “Rushes” and “Rushes To” sounding like anything that belong on a completed LP. And that’s what makes Endless such a challenging listen. Songs bleed into each other, making it hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Others are interrupted by jarring interludes. Tracks like “Sideways” just seem like an excuse for Frank to rant about “haters.” There’s no regard for structure or cohesion.
But this is Frank Ocean we’re talking about. Rules have never been his thing.
At worst, Endless feels like a last-minute science project – a bunch of decent ideas and concepts haphazardly glued to tri-folded poster boards. At best, it’s the height of artistic creativity, the result of an artist who has been given free rein to experiment and buck the system.
Endless likely will be one of those projects that will be debated for years, with adoration and derision on both sides of the aisle. It’s certainly not the disaster some critics have claimed in the past 24 hours, yet it’s nowhere near the stroke of brilliance superfans are touting it to be.
Consider this visual album to be a live listening session inside Frank’s creative, yet jumbled musical mind.
Endless does prove one thing – Frank has all the pieces to create another great album. Making those pieces fit into one solid masterpiece will be his greatest challenge.
Oh, and releasing the thing – that’s a big challenge for him, too. It would be cool if that actually happened this decade, Frank.
Best tracks: “Commes des Garcons,” “Slide on Me,” “Mine”
3.5 stars out of 5