In 1972, the Rolling Stones released “Exile on Main St.”
Fans of “Let it Bleed” or “Sticky Fingers” heard about the album from rock magazines or the radio. Those who liked the Stones’ new, darker sound told their friends, who went to record shops to buy the album.
It was a simpler time, and it is over.
Now, we have an app to tell us when Frank Ocean will release an album that he almost released as a known surprise.
If that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, don’t worry — it probably shouldn’t. But bear with us.
Frank Ocean is an R&B singer whose second album, “Boys Don’t Cry,” is set to come out … sometime soon.
His debut album, “channel ORANGE,” came out in 2012. The press surrounding it was tremendously positive, in part because it’s a terrific album — which The Washington Post called the year’s sole masterpiece and which earned six Grammy nominations and won the Grammy for best urban contemporary album.
It also made a splash because Ocean, who was linked to Odd Future, a group of young rappers and musicians who often used homophobic slurs in their music, came out as bisexual that same year.
He announced the new project on Feb. 20, 2013, in an interview with Zane Lowe (who worked for BBC Radio 1 at the time). According to the New York Times, he announced its title, “Boys Don’t Cry,” that same year.
Fans have been waiting for it ever since.
On Aug. 1, the New York Times reported that a source said the album will be out on … drum (machine) roll, please … Aug. 5 as part of a surprise drop.
The news made sense. After all, earlier that day a live feed appeared on the album’s site that showed studio equipment bearing the Apple Music logo.
The paper wrote:
Mr. Ocean, the innovative and enigmatic R&B singer, is set to release his next album, “Boys Don’t Cry,” on Friday through an exclusive deal with Apple Music, according to a person with knowledge of the release plans.
Guess what didn’t happen?
Here’s a hint: It prompted The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi to pen a piece titled, “No, Frank Ocean’s album still hasn’t come out.”
It still hasn’t.
There have been a number of other hints over the years — all of which turned out to be red herrings, though it’s unclear if that was intentional — at when the record would be released. Izadi summarizes them nicely.
Shahzeb Khan, for one, has had enough.
The 20-year-old computer science and engineering junior at UC Davis created an app that will text excited fans the second Ocean’s new album drops online.
“I’m home for the summer and like everyone else I’m a huge Frank Ocean fan and I’ve been anticipating the album and checking up on blogs and websites constantly and there’s been radio silence. I just got tired of refreshing my browsers all day,” Khan told Billboard.
Called (650)82OCEAN, the Web-based app “automatically looks at Spotify, iTunes, and Twitter for the latest in Frank Ocean news. The second it detects that a new album has gone live, it will automatically send everyone a text with the link for the album,” according to its “About” page.
So, why did he need to create this in the first place? Why won’t this album just come out already?
It’s a difficult question to answer, especially since the notoriously media-shy Ocean hasn’t said much about it.
Some fans don’t think the album even exists, or, at least, that it isn’t finished yet.
If he is still working on it, it might serve him best to put the thing out and continue to fiddle with it, the way that Kanye West did with his most recent release, “The Life of Pablo.” After releasing the record on the Tidal streaming service, Kanye decided it wasn’t ready, so he tinkered with it more and (re?)released the record, this time with new songs and alternative takes of previously released tracks.
If Ocean keeps holding onto the record, it runs the risk of becoming the new “Chinese Democracy,” the Guns N’ Roses album that was supposed to be released in 1999 or 2000. The album was massively delayed, not hitting shelves until November 2008, at which point the hype for the album was insurmountable.
Rock critic Chuck Klosterman wrote:
Reviewing “Chinese Democracy” is not like reviewing music. It’s more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? Am I supposed to compare it to conventional horses? To a rhinoceros? Does its pre-existing mythology impact its actual value, or must it be examined inside a cultural vacuum, as if this creature is no more (or less) special than the remainder of the animal kingdom? I’ve been thinking about this record for 15 years; during that span, I’ve thought about this record more than I’ve thought about China, and maybe as much as I’ve thought about the principles of democracy.
Worse, if Ocean holds onto the record for too long, it could become the new “Detox.” If you’re wondering what on earth that is, that’s because it doesn’t exist. At least, not for public consumption.
Dr. Dre announced it in 2002 as the follow-up to his classic “2001.” Guess what hasn’t been released? Rolling Stone has a nice timeline of the album’s long stint in purgatory.
It’s become such a punchline in pop music that Dre (and his protege Eminem) have actually released music about not releasing the album.
Don’t let that happen, Ocean.
But it seems most likely that he, or maybe Apple Music on which the record will be exclusively released, is stoking the fires of interest — or at least attempting to — by delaying the record’s release.
It would be an interesting take on the “surprise release,” the marketing trick of dropping an album unexpectedly (or just after hinting at it) to create an explosion of interest.
But part of the idea of a surprise album is it drops when people aren’t expecting it. You know, like a surprise.
Instead, Ocean (or Apple Music) has just succeeded in continuously disappointing his fans. Hold out for too long, and fans will likely get bored (as evidenced by the incredibly lackluster sales of “Chinese Democracy.”)
Luckily, now fans don’t have to keep checking Pitchfork and MTV news to see if the new record has dropped. Khan’s taken care of that. Instead, they’ll just obsessively check their phones.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other.