‘Endless’ journey of perfection for Frank Ocean
Recently surfaced CD-quality ‘Endless’ brings light to hidden masterpiece
Artist: Frank Ocean
Release Date: April 9
Label: Def Jam
The word "perfection" is corny. Nothing is truly perfect – especially art. Everything comes with its faults.
I tried to find fault with the CD-quality version of Frank Ocean’s “Endless.” I listened from a critic’s perspective several times over. I removed my personal feelings for Ocean’s craft and just listened as if it meant nothing to me. And I’ve come to a conclusion.
This album is perfect. There’s no way to listen to this and not feel something. There’s no way to not feel torn. There’s no way to not feel Ocean’s pain. There’s absolutely no way to critically shame something that’s been written with seemingly effortless power and passion.
It is perfect for an Ocean album. It is perfect for an album in general. And it’s beyond perfect for a throwaway album used to break free of a record deal.
“Endless” is a masterpiece and wasn’t given the attention it deserved when it initially dropped in 2016. This is easily Ocean’s fault for releasing it as a video album, supposedly as an excuse to escape his record deal with Def Jam. It was shortly outshined by his immediate follow-up “Blonde.” But on Cyber Monday last year, Ocean surprised fans by selling physical copies of “Endless” on his website as a CD quality version, allowing the public to hear the record the way it should be heard.
But as painful as those five months of patience and waiting on shipment receipts were for fans, hearing a clear version of this album is an experience unlike any other.
The album opens with “At Your Best (You Are Love),” a cover of Aaliyah’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ classic. It’s a nod to R&B’s greats and it’s flawless, a slow paced piano ballad with Ocean singing in a rare falsetto throughout. This track wasn’t anything new to fans, but the feeling is entirely different than listening to it on Tumblr back in 2015. It is no longer some cover Ocean posted online –– it’s a flawlessly executed opener to an album that explores just as much, if not more, of the isolated superstar as “Blonde.”
“At Your Best” is followed by “Alabama,” the first minute-long cut of the record. In one mere minute, Ocean is able to successfully make you feel lifted to new levels. The track separates both earbuds with a call and response opening verse, but once what seems to be the chorus hits, the listener can feel all of Ocean’s pain during his plea. “What can I do to love you more than I do now?” Ocean sings. This is the first time on the record that it feels like Ocean is genuinely breaking down, and it hurts.
Minute-long excellence finds its way back into “Endless” in the form of “Comme des Garçons,” a percussive-heavy laid back ode to feelings coming and going. Ocean shows off where he reigns; vocal layering. The infectious 808s prove the song to be something that could’ve easily lasted a solid three minutes. But Ocean’s choice to limit this track to just 59 seconds was purposeful. “Endless” isn’t allowed to have highlights. Every track fits and nothing feels misplaced, rushed or oversaturated in any way.
Two interludes later, “Wither” proves to be a lyrical and emotional gem. In the two-minute and 30-second cut, Ocean speaks to, what seems like, his future children. “Hope they’ll get to see my color, know that I’ve enjoyed sunshine,” Ocean sings, comparing himself to a dying flower and expressing his hopes to enlighten his future children with all he’s learned. The song is meaningful at its highest, and brings life to stunning vocal riffs and lyrical mastery from a man who isn’t afraid to step into new themes.
Soon after, “Slide On Me” gives “Endless” it’s peak smoothness. A powerful guitar riff and heavy percussion bring a little bit more energy to a seemingly balled-filled record. With a taste of rapping and new flavor, “Slide On Me” is the “Nights,” without the beat breakdown, that “Endless” deserves.
“Rushes” parallels “Slide On Me,” and takes the listener into Ocean’s emotional breakup. “First I was rushing for a wait, this time I’m waiting for a rush,” Ocean sings, explaining that he was initially looking to settle down with his lover, but now he can’t wait to get the relationship over with. Each partner was looking for something different from the relationship, and Ocean makes it easy to feel his pain with powerful vocal harmonies that complete the track.
“Higgs” is the next big player in “Endless.” It’s an acoustic ballad highlighting a breakup between Ocean and a lover. It’s honest, sweet and heartbreaking, and when paired with Ocean’s final crooning, it’s irresistible.
“Endless” is everything “Blonde” was without the commercial success. It’s a love letter about the imperfect life of an isolated superstar, but written with heart and perfection.
With every record, Ocean personifies “perfect” with his writing and his overall craft, but this one is the perfect amount of perfect.