Frank Ocean's Black Friday "Blonde": How Much Is Too Much For A New Vinyl Album?
Earlier this year, R&B phenom Frank Ocean finally dropped his excellent second album, Blonde. The record was surprise-released in August after years of secrecy and anticipation, preceded a couple days prior by a companion "visual album," Endless. Both Blonde and Endless were only released digitally, with no word of a physical release. Ocean loves ramping up the mystery whenever possible, always keeping you guessing.
So maybe it shouldn't have been too shocking when, on Nov. 25, aka Black Friday, Ocean gave us another surprise release, this time with Blonde on vinyl and CD, along with some separate exclusive merch. As usual with most things Frank, there was a catch, and in this case the physical records and merch were available only through his website and just for 24 hours. Not only that, but there was no word on whether or not you'd ever see a wider release of Blonde on vinyl after Nov. 25.
With most artists, I'd scoff at the claim of a 24-hour sales window for vinyl without a more general release already lined up down the road. Given Ocean's erratic nature though, there was a real possibility to take him at his word.
I consider Ocean's debut, Channel Orange, to be one of the best albums of the last decade. Criminally, that record has still yet to get an official vinyl release, though there are bootlegs out there. So for Ocean fans, this was the first opportunity to own a piece of the singer's work on true vinyl.
For me, the catch was Blonde was marked at $35 with another $7.99 due in shipping costs. That brought it to $42.99 before taxes. On his website, there weren't a lot of additional details about the vinyl package, such as the quality of the pressing or exclusive artwork, except that it was a double album from XL Recordings and would begin shipping in early December. You could tell, however, that the artwork was different from the original release, with the use of white and black being inverted on the cover for Black Friday.
For as much as I love Frank's work, I couldn't pull the trigger. A new vinyl album would have to have something pretty convincing going on for me to spend $35 on it, let alone another $8 in shipping costs. I've done it before, sure. I paid around twice that for Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool deluxe without even hearing the record in full. That purchase was predicated on the excellent job the band did with the In Rainbows deluxe version in 2007, and spelling out exactly what you were getting with your purchase: exclusive artwork, an awesome book-type encasing, a CD version with a bonus disc, and even a snippet of studio tape.
With Blonde, Ocean didn't do that well enough for me by just labeling the album a limited-edition "Black Friday" version with different album art. From my perspective, this felt like a pretty standard release of Blonde on vinyl, but with a limited run meant for super fans on Black Friday.
And maybe that's the difference though, I'm a super-fan of Radiohead, but don't really qualify as a Stan for Frank Ocean just yet. Not only that, but Blonde didn't initially grab me the way Channel Orange did upon the first couple listens. I want to go back and revisit it, and vinyl would be a great way to do that, but there was just something a little too much about shelling over $43 for a vinyl copy.
So this was a hard pass almost on principle. There are few artists I'd fork over $35 on vinyl when I can just listen to the album on Spotify. If you're going to charge that amount for an album, I want to know why. What am I getting in return for paying over the standard price for a new album, which I consider to be around $25-$30? Factor in the shipping costs and it just wasn't a convincing sell.
Given Ocean's reputation for surprises though, I'll be curious to see what fans receive when they finally get the album in the mail, and I'm already catching a little FOMO over the decision: the official Black Friday Blonde pressings are already going for $150 on eBay.
For now, I'm just going to sit back and hope Blonde gets a wider release with standard artwork and pricing (along with Channel Orange, which I definitely would buy at $35) and pray I didn't totally miss out forever.