A Journey Into Frank Ocean’s Masterpiece, “Nights”
When I listen to Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”, I tend to space out. The album is psychedelic, almost transcendent in the way it sounds and the way it feels. When I listen to the album in its entirety, I feel as if I’ve been transported to another universe; I’m floating, serenaded by a nostalgic, confused Frank Ocean. Each song serves a different purpose, pushing the album forwards in its own, unique way. You’ve got “Nikes”, the high pitched intro of the album, a bitter observation on the materialism of everyday life. You’ve got “White Ferrari”, a moment of nostalgia on the album, where Frank recalls a car ride with his first love when he was 16. You’ve got “Nights”, the song this article is about, which is, arguably, the masterpiece and thesis statement of the entire album.
The song tells a story that takes place right after the events of Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy that displaced Frank Ocean (born as Christopher Edwin Breaux) from New Orleans, his hometown, to Houston. During this time in Houston, Frank wound up with a harrowing cocaine addiction, a disease that tremendously affected both his mental state and his music. Before diving into the lyrics and the story behind them, we should look at the format and execution of the music itself.
“Nights” is split into two separate parts, the first we’ll call The High and the second we’ll call The Comedown.
The High, which is the first verse and everything before the beat switch approximately halfway through the song, is aggressive and urgent. The music in the background slinks along angrily, almost as if they’re robbers in the middle of the night (which would make sense in the context of the lyrics). “Nights” is one of the only songs in the entire album that contains any percussion, and the way the bass booms at the beginning of certain measures adds an anger to the music. The first verse, the High, seems to be a coke-high Frank angrily attacking his issues, ripping into them and the people who have caused them.
The Comedown, though, is the complete opposite. The music turns somber and slow, the cocaine high is over, now Frank is having a crash. The guitar chorus that leads into the comedown seems to represent an attempt to bring himself back; he can feel the storm coming. The snare in The Comedown is a whisper, his voice that of a weak, defeated man. The music shows his confidence sucked away by cocaine, the very thing that had provided him the strength he had been seeking in the first verse.
The lyrics in the first verse seem to discuss Frank’s relationship with the world around him and, more specifically, the relationship he had with someone (presumably pre-cocaine addiction). In the first few lines he attempts to justify his distance with the people around him, saying that they’re never honest with them, he can’t break the law with them (in this song, breaking the law represents a form of trust for Frank), he doesn’t have time for everyone, etc etc. These lines set up a distance between him and the person he’s talking to (I say that he’s talking to this person because in a later line he directly asks said person “Did you call me from a seance?”). As he talks directly to this person, we’ll call him/her Sam, he becomes aggressive and accusatory, making abundantly clear he no longer needs Sam, and he no longer cares about him/her (“Did you call me from a seance?”, “If i get my money right/ you know I won’t need you”). He seems to almost be angry at the concept of this person crying and being hurt (“Why your eyes well up?”) as he offers no comfort but instead becomes more aggressive, ripping into Sam, telling him/her that he’s moved on and become far better than he ever was when involved with Sam (“You are from my past life”), brushing off his/her attempts to catch up by simply saying “I hope you’re doing well bruh”. His usage of the word “bruh” adds even more distance, as Frank doesn’t even care enough to use Sam’s name, though you could argue that Frank’s clear and obvious attempts to blow off Sam serve the opposite purpose.
In the chorus of The High, Frank begins to open up to the listener in a way he didn’t open up to Sam in the first verse, telling us that he’s depressed, bummed out, and confused, and relies on drugs to take away this pain. He’s restless and can’t get to sleep, which is furthering his depression and discomfort.
The Comedown opens with a brutal guitar solo, Frank’s attempt to bounce back from the wild night he’d just come out of. The beat crashes into a very laid back, slow R&B mix that sounds like the musical embodiment of defeat. He opens up this second verse by saying “Every night fu–s every day up/ everyday patches every night up”. In this down state, he tells the listener about New Orleans, discussing the family car in detail, telling us that his family could only afford 6 discs to switch between. The cocaine, the drugs, are taking Frank away from his roots, something that he needs to feel grounded. The Comedown is Frank’s “patching the night up during the day” hangover, where he comes to the realization that the drugs are taking him away from his roots, and the loss of his roots is pulling him further into drugs; a seemingly endless cycle.
“Nights” is an intensely beautiful masterpiece of a song, one that is a masterclass in how music can and should be made. The beat switch conveys a message without being too heavy handed, and the lyrics are haunting. “Nights” is Frank Ocean at his best, and I’m incredibly excited to see how he inevitably tops it.