Earlier today, Frank Ocean put his increasingly rabid fans out of their misery by finally dropping his second album, but it's not quite the album they were expecting. Rather than his long-promised 'Boys Don't Cry' LP, it's a 45-minute film featuring 18 new tracks that’s available for streaming exclusively on Apple Music. Here are some first thoughts on this initially bewildering effort from the enigmatic R&B superstar.
1. Frank knows his way around a power tool.
Though 'Endless' is technically a visual album, like Beyoncé's 'Lemonade', it's a much more low-key affair than Beyoncé's Emmy-nominated spectacular. Here we see Ocean hammering, sawing and sweeping the floor as he diligently builds a spiral staircase in an otherwise empty warehouse. Shot in grainy black and white, it feels a bit like a student art project, but there's something strangely mesmerising about it nonetheless. Is Ocean trying to tell his fans that making something worthwhile takes time, effort and craft?
2. Don’t expect club bangers.
For much of its running time, the music is similarly subdued and often quite obtuse. These 18 tracks rarely bother with conventional song structure and tend to blend into one another so you're not always sure when one ends and the next begins. That said, there are several more urgent moments – like the daring overlapping vocals of 'Alabama’, the synthy instrumental hooks of 'Higgs' and sublime blend of guitars and drill-like beats on ‘Rushes’. It's worth noting too, that though Ocean's pretty freeform here, he still supplies some sparkling melodies.
3. We’re calling it ‘eMotown’.
Ocean's voice is especially devastating on a tear-stained cover of The Isley Brothers' '(At Your Best) You Are Love' which we're hereby dubbing 'eMotown'. The album also features vocal contributions from James Blake, London artist Sampha and US soul singer Jazmine Sullivan, whose dreamy backing vocals are particularly effectively on a lovely lo-fi ballad called 'Wither'.
4. You can catch oblique references to the pressures of being Frank.
Ocean's lyrics rarely seem to be telling any kind of straightforward narrative, at least on first listen, but 'Sideways' sounds like it could be a musing on the recording artist's transient and pressured lifestyle. Here Ocean sings about 'hotel living' and '777 flights' before sighing, 'When I'm up they gon' hate / When I'm down they gon' celebrate.'
5. And then came the cheesy techno beat.
The album ends abruptly and bizarrely with German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans telling us: 'The new Samsung Galaxy allows you to live-stream your life' over a cheesy techno beat that resembles nothing else on the album. Then, just like that, the credits roll. It's tempting to read the Samsung namecheck as Ocean's way of trolling Apple, just as it's tempting to read the album's title, 'Endless', as a playful reference to the waiting game he’s been making his fans play of late.
The bottom line
An Apple Music rep has told fans: 'Keep an eye out this weekend for more from Frank', fuelling speculation that the actual 'Boys Don't Cry' album could be about to drop imminently. Even if this is the actual album, 'Endless' has plenty for them to dissect and discuss as it cements Ocean's reputation as a fierce, unique and completely unpredictable talent.
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