FRANK OCEAN – Endless (Def Jam): Allmusic: “A smartly ordered patchwork of mostly secondary material.” 2.5/5. The A.V. Club: “A chore to sit through.” C+. Spin: “Endless doesn’t deliver as an album or a visual spectacle.” 6.6/10. If Endless were the ultimate end product of several years’ waiting and the never-ending hype machine, middling responses like the above would be more understandable. To be fair, all of those review took into account the visual aspect of the album because, well, it’s supposed to be a visual album, and they’re right when they dismiss the staircase-building as dull to watch. But compiled as a 46-minute audio album, Endless works fine—inferior to blond, sure, and had blond not dropped the following day I too probably would have been more dismissive, because it’s the largely hookless blond that informs the much more free-flowing aesthetic Endless employs.
Undeniably it’s full of odd moments. Endless begins and ends with Wolfgang Tillmans’ “Device Control,” informing the listener in a bizarre bit of product placement that “With this Apple appliance, you can capture live video” before breaking down into clubtronica. It transitions to the second track, a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “(At Your Best) You Are Love,” delivered fully in quiet falsetto atop a bed of Johnny Greenwood-arranged strings. On “Alabama,” Ocean lays his vocals on top of one another, their rhymes colliding, a hushed, steady, and slightly darkly toned piano pulses underneath. “Mine” is nothing but thirty seconds of jumbled Ocean speech. He finds a good beat and potential chorus (like “Comme Des Garcone”) and can’t be bothered to stretch it into proper song length. Before the beginnings of “Device Control” return on the final track (“Higgs”), Ocean drops a sinister beat that disappears with a poof into the ether. If avant-garde hip-hop and R&B exists.
It’s true that without blond, Endless would be either insanely overpraised by those eager to proclaim the genius of anything Ocean touched or unfairly maligned as the most disappointing follow-up to one of the decade’s most heralded albums. The strength of Endless—which others may think of as its weakness—is the mystery of it all. Every time you think you’re about to slip into a groove or understand it a bit better, Ocean snatches the tease of coherence away. Endless came out of nowhere, has been given no context, and its attendant visual component does nothing to inform the music the way Beyonce’s video enhances and elevates the songs of Lemonade. Instead, Endless is like a river—seemingly infinite, fragmentary and flowing at the same time. Something in the water catches your eye, you turn to look and it’s gone. A MINUS