You’d be forgiven for suspecting that the enigmatic singer-songwriter had simply evaporated. Done with this world after gifting its people 2012’s Channel Orange, he dutifully began vaporisation, leaving civilisation in a divine, gaseous form and returning to his rightful home with the other higher powers. Unworthily, we, the people of Earth, have waited ever since, longing for the next masterful helping of Ocean’s musical catalogue.
During this agonising wait, there have been a number of false starts. There were tweets, quotes, reports, leaked (and then quickly deleted) images, as well as a mock-up of his anticipated second album’s cover and whisperings of an Ocean-helmed magazine. We’ve been misinformed, misled, and in some cases (I’m looking at you, April Fools merchants), outright trolled. After four years, all we really know is that it’s (probably) titled Boys Don’t Cry.
Then last week happened.
Through his website, which has quickly solidified its status as the sole reputable source of information when it comes to Frank Ocean’s sophomore album, he released a picture of a library card, labelled Boys Don’t Cry and marked ‘Date Due’. The post, via which the image was circulated, is titled ‘Late’, whilst the library card in question shows a number of scribbled dates messily written and subsequently scribbled out, apart from one: July 2016.
Cue excitement. Cue frenzy. Cue pure, unadulterated hysteria, bursting out of every emotional crevice after years of veiled repression. It’s coming, damn it – the new album is coming!
… Well, probably. Let’s be fair, it wouldn’t be unlike Ocean to provide us with another digital red herring. But this seems like the most promising piece of intel in a long while. If you study the library card closely enough, you see that there are actually two dates left untarnished – the other one being November 2016. This could well be the release date for the title-sharing magazine that has gradually become Reddit mythology, whilst there are also valid claims that the singer-songwriter has turned his hand to prose and written a novel. Either way, it’s an exciting time to be a Frank Ocean fan, and even the most hardened of cynics would find it difficult to argue that there isn’t something on its way soon.
So why is it so, well… exciting? Album anticipation isn’t anything new, but the hope and expectancy that have followed the mysterious progress of Boys Don’t Cry has surpassed long surpassed cultism, operating instead on a radical, fundamentalist structure of following.
Were the moon landings faked? Who shot J.R.? Did Jesus really exist? When’s Frank Ocean’s second album coming out? Answer me!
The wait, and all of its surrounding context, has become firmly engrained in popular culture. Why? That’s a good question. Channel Orange is a masterpiece, there’s no doubting that. It’s a stunningly expansive personal catalogue of music, tackling issues such as race, violence, addiction, economic disparity and sexual orientation with a new-age philosophical brand of intellectualism, spearheaded by Ocean’s prodigious vocal ability. But there have been great albums before, none of which inspired such hullaballoo.
I guess you could argue that Ocean specifically enthuses such a cult-like by-product. With his detached, prophet-like demeanour and pioneering approach to the relationship between music and sexuality, he threatens to enter territories previously occupied by Bowie and Prince. To the rest of us, he seems other-worldly. A messiah, almost.
Perhaps it’s the legacy. Channel Orange proved the direct catalyst to the beginning of a post-R&B movement. Though Ocean has specifically stated that he dislikes being associated with a singular category, he is, irrefutably, the ambivalent architect of this sister-genre. Musical styles and templates are infused, sounds entangled, whilst socio-cultural binaries, such as gender, race and sexual orientation are blurred. It’s a different, more vulnerable art form, which has grown to inform contemporary music enormously.
There’s no right or wrong answer, really. The only truth is that regardless of cause, Channel Orange became much more than just a record, whilst Frank Ocean has become much more than just an artist, transpiring the realms placed before him with a spiritual aloofness. The wait, with all of its murmurs, rumours and lies, is something that has gripped a collective. For as long as I’ve been musically-conscious, never before have I seen a record that is so universally anticipated, and has been for such a length of time.
With the wait clearly coming to an end, questions are bound to be answered. Which again, I reiterate, makes it an exciting time to be a Frank Ocean fan. But when we look back at this period of unknowing wilderness, older and more learned, I can’t help but get the feeling we’ll miss it a little.
The album was never dead, it was simply hiding. Making us want it more.
Words by Niall Flynn