Check out Part One of this series here.
Last night, Frank Ocean returned to his livestream to finish his project. They were stairs! Frank spent about an hour putting the final touches on, and then just after midnight climbed the staircase. The video stream started to glitch, reversing and cutting in and out, before I looked to the internet (Pitchfork and the r/hiphopheads subreddit, in this case) and, GASP! Frank had released a "Visual Album" called Endless. I renewed my Apple Music subscription (having just ran out of my free trial just 3 months after Coloring Book) and started the album.
Note - this article is going to feature rampant speculation and broad generalizations regarding Kanye West, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean, and the death of Harambe (one of those is not true)
I haven't seen a track list for Endless yet, so I'm going to be describing the songs by what Frank's wearing when they're playing (there's 4-5 cuts to black, which resume with an outfit change). Here's a quick recap.
Frank croons over a simple keyboard track, while on-screen, we see one, and then two, and then three Franks appear in the oh-so-famous warehouse from the streams. Two Franks work on the project, while another sits across the room, on his phone.
White Shirt, Long Sleeves
A more hip-hop intro, Frank sings over a few voice tracks of himself. Really reminiscent of Channel Orange. Simple piano, this is one of few tracks where Frank shows of his skills as a singer. Another track hits, with a drum machine and a bluesy-electric guitar. One of the highlights of Endless is the guitar throughout the album. It's used sparingly, but effectively.
Playboy Sweater, Brown Jacket
This opening is a bit reggae feeling, really upbeat, as Frank continues working on his project, wearing a welding mask. We get a tiny piece of the first single of the album; it plays for about 10 seconds, and then cuts out. I expect more to come out of that piece of music.
Frank carries the first step off camera. More steps. He's in another room now, wearing a disposable coverall, spray painting the steps. All but four get a paint job. A well-produced track that Frank sings over. Moving on.
A simple hip-hop track. Endless features a ton of simple tracks of a drum machine, keyboards, and Frank singing/rapping over. Nothing too extravagant. The first four steps here aren't finished (we're seeing the assembly of the staircase we saw finished in the livestream). A few more tracks here, but they blend together to me (I know, I know. I'll get to that in a second).
The track that stands out most to me here and the most throughout Endless is near the end of this segment. A simple acoustic guitar plays, Frank sings over. Quietly, an electric guitar enters, continuing the trend of the guitar being a prominent and well-used part of the album. I'd say this is the track of the album. Frank really gets to sing here in a great crescendo, which he doesn't do much in Endless, which is one of it's weaker parts. Frank is a stunning vocalist (tracks like "Sweet Life" and "Bad Religion" don't exist on Channel Orange if this isn't the case), but he feels like he's holding back throughout Endless. There's not the gravity to his voice that we've heard before.
Finally, Frank finishes the stairs (this was shown on the livestream prior, and I think having it as the climax of your visual album is a weak move on Frank's part here. We know what's going to happen.) The beat here hits hardest as he ascends, but suddenly, we get a flash of pink (the only color in the entire album) and silence, as Frank sits on a table.
This is the last track of the album. It's not Frank, and it sounds like if David Bowie did a cover of "Fitter Happier" from OK Computer. I don't dislike this track, but it starts to tell the story that Frank wants to tell. Some lines from the song:
The message here is pretty damn clear. Frank's criticizing the current day trend of always plugged-in, always streaming, always watching. He's making fun of the people who have been watching and waiting for him to drop the album, watching his livestreams the last few weeks.
So... Frank's Laughing at Us?
I think so. I think this is a bit of a 'fuck you' to fans. Now, fans of any media have a habit of being very entitled very often, but, Frank's album has been anxiously awaited for four years (and very much so this summer). Of course his fans are going to watch anything he's doing, even if it's livestreaming making stairs. We're going to renew our Apple Music membership to check out Endless. We're going to obsess over the secret meanings. However, Frank is starting to lose us.
Let the broad generalizations begin! Down the rabbit hole we go...
This February, Kanye West teased us with The Life of Pablo release date. It was pushed back a day because "Waves" wasn't going to be included, and Chance the Rapper (who wrote the track) pushed for it to be on the album. Kanye delayed the album, included "Waves," and the album is better for it (Quick TLOP review: Had Kanye removed "Feedback," "Freestyle 4," "I Love Kanye," the back half of "FML," "Silver Surfer Intermission," "Facts" and "Fade," IT WOULD BE A MUCH BETTER ALBUM. It didn't feel cohesive at all). But Kanye communicated with his fans, releasing the updated tracklist written down on a legal pad. And the next day, The Life of Pablo was out. I sat in my basement the next morning, with two of my best friends and listened to it start to finish. We LOST it during "Hightlights" when Kanye called out Ray J. "I Love Kanye" made us laugh and laugh. "Famous" - well, you can imagine how we all felt about "Famous." Kanye had some last minute edits to make to The Life of Pablo, but we all knew about them. We knew the album was coming. Kanye even did us the favor to let us know Chance's new album was on the way!
May rolled around, and Coloring Book was out. Chance released the album when we all knew it was coming, and it lived up to the hype (My #2 album of the year as of now). But Frank? He's leaving us hanging. We don't know what's going on. His secrecy is starting to alienate fans of his, who are now just waiting and waiting and waiting. Endless is released, and mocks the concept of streaming and obsessing over your favorite artists? After Kanye and Chance so effectively used that hype to promote and build interest in their albums? Kanye released it on Tidal! People signed up for Tidal to hear new Kanye (it was also pirated 500,000 times in the first day, so maybe not everyone signed up for Tidal). Chance was exclusive to Apple Music for two weeks, and you bet your ass I used my free trial for that. I stayed up late that night, lying in bed with my headphones on. Frank is continuing to have these events, building hype, but until tonight, nothing came of them. Tonight, that changed though. We got Endless. So let's talk about it.
Endless is a far inferior album because of it's visual aspect. Film (or a visual album) is supposed to accomplish one goal in the viewer: elicit an emotional response. For the first 30 minutes of Endless, I was bored. I couldn't get into the music because I was watching Frank build these fucking stairs (listening to it again while writing, without watching, I did appreciate the music a lot more). So, the final track starts, and has the message that Frank's looking down on what fans have been doing, and I was done.
Begin Rampent Speculation
I don't think Boys Don't Cry is coming anytime soon. I don't think it's even finished. Those four bottom steps of Frank's staircase? That represents the album. It's been completed, but it's not finished. He needs to go back and work on it more. The multiple Franks that occupy the space represent the 2-3 times the album has been allegedly finished. Don't hold you breath anyone, because it is not coming soon. According to Pitchfork, an Apple Music rep said more is coming from Frank this weekend, and I would LOVE to be proven wrong about this. This is Pop Volture's second article about Boys Don't Cry. After the first, I was excited for what was to come. But we've entered Act II, where it ends with the audience at a low point (Prime example, The Empire Strikes Back (A perfect film)). Act III will come, eventually, and it will be a review and thoughts on Boys Don't Cry, or whatever the final product Frank releases is.
But right now, I, Kevin Connor, have lost faith in Frank Ocean. Yeezus help us all.