Late Thursday night, a workaholic friend who’d promised to finally take a real vacation texted a series of photos of herself on a sun-kissed beach, enjoying exotic drinks and a tropical sunset. “You proud of me?” she wrote, then followed immediately with the real topic that brought her out of her vacation reverie: “Why is Frank Ocean trending?”
Hm, probably people belatedly realizing that Ocean, whose Coachella headlining slot was originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed by the pandemic, won’t be playing the festival until 2023 — but there was another, even better reason: A version of him singing “Nikes” — the centerpiece of his 2016 album “Blonde,” which features him singing the song’s heart-rending melody in a voice heavily, frustratingly treated with autotune — without effects had surfaced via Pigeons and Planes. It’s gorgeous — and the response online was as much about how long Ocean has made fans wait for new music as the stunning alternate version of the song, which some of us were lucky enough to hear on his handful of live dates in 2017. The minute-long clip features him singing just the first verses of the song, apparently at a rehearsal and accompanied only by a keyboardist, and it cuts off after the chorus, but it’s gorgeous.
Frank Ocean singing "Nikes" without the vocal effects RT for good luckpic.twitter.com/xDcdw9DCUV
— Pigeons & Planes (@PigsAndPlans) January 13, 2022
“I selfishly am ok with a Frank Ocean leak,” wrote CriPPin’ Noir, summing up the feelings of many. “He’s starved us for far too long.”
It’s not that Ocean hasn’t been doing anything since the release of “Blonde” in the final summer of the Obama Administration. He’s released a few stand-alone songs, like “Chanel,” “Biking” (featuring Jay-Z and Tyler, the Creator), a lovely cover of “Moon River,” “Cayendo,” a nine-minute improvised track on a special edition of his “Blonded Radio” show on Apple Music this past Christmas, and a couple of others, all of which are good and a couple of which are great — particularly 2019’s “DHL.” He’s also had other projects cooking, most prominently his luxury brand Homer. But that film Spike Jonze made of Ocean’s 2017 tour? Not a peep about it in years. A new album? Who knows.
The reaction to this stunning version of “Nikes” shows how a delicious appetizer only makes a person even hungrier.