One way to think of Blonde, the sex-obsessed new album from oceanic pop star Frank Ocean, is as a lurid portrait of Marilyn Monroe. From the droll reference to masturbation that begins “Solo,” to the lascivious come-ons of “Self Control,” and to the hellish rape scene in which Monroe is stabbed by Darryl F. Zanuck (a director who was smeared by the #MeToo movement as a predatory sexual mogul)—Blonde revels in carnality, and Monroe’s lust is at its core.
Yet there’s more to this portrait than sex and fame. Blonde, like the work of The Beach Boys’ sad auteur Brian Wilson, dwells over states of dislocation and loneliness. It also re-examines the canon of classic rock, the genre that first mentored Ocean and his fellow wunderkinds of Odd Future.
As much as it pays tribute to those histories, the music of Blonde tells a different story from that of contemporary pop. Pop today seems more explicit than ever; hip-hop’s artistry in off-color metaphor has grown exponentially, while R&B’s bedroom jams celebrate sexual satisfaction in no uncertain terms. But Ocean’s matter-of-factness strips away the posturing that demands sexuality be a public performance, and reinstates a sense of intimacy. The sonic palette of Blonde is cool, languid and minimal—guitar and keyboard lines swell and brush against each other but rarely coalesce into hooks or stirring choruses. It’s a portrait of a woman who feels at once sexy and alienated from the world around her. Blonde