Ever since the 2016 release of his pair of critically acclaimed albums, Blonde and Endless, Frank Ocean has been working at his own pace. 2017 saw the alt-R&B sensation release four songs: “Chanel” came out in February, “Biking” and “Lens” dropped in April and “Provider” trickled out just a few months ago. These surprise releases all came out on Ocean’s own Blonded label, suggesting that he’s enjoying taking a more artisan approach to songwriting.
“Moon River,” his newest single, dropped late at night on Valentine’s Day. For those not in the know, it’s a cover of the Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer original, performed by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a typically shrewd move for Frank Ocean, who is something of a pop-culture buff (“Provider” name-dropped the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Aphex Twin and Talking Heads).
Ocean, as always, does a uniquely brilliant job in balancing music’s history with its future. His vocals — stunningly and cleverly layered — put his own stamp on the song. However, he carefully preserves the integrity of the composition, thanks to the song’s paper-thin soundscape. In Frank Ocean’s hand’s, “Moon River” is lighter than ever. Most of the song is only a double-tracked guitar and his vocals. But those vocals, as most of us know by now, are not to be underestimated. They’re warm and honeyed, mellifluous and brave, unshakably romantic in their imperfection.
Robert Wright once wrote in The Atlantic, “[“Moon River”] is a love sung to wanderlust… a romantic song in which the romantic partner is the idea of romance.” During the song’s final minute, a string arrangement blooms to accompany Ocean’s voice as he sings, “Life’s just around the bend, my friend / Moon river, and me.” Then it fades away once more, leaving behind tendrils of synthesized sound.
To me, these precious final moments represent the ineffable yearning feeling you get on nights when you can’t sleep — nights charged with heartsick longing for a lover, or a faraway place. Or maybe something in between the two — after all, that’s what “Moon River” is all about.
Frank Ocean can still do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned. This song is a near-perfect exercise in emotional abstraction, a song with a depth that belies its spontaneous release. Don’t be fooled by his surprise releases and brainiac pop-culture references. “Moon River” proves that Frank Ocean, like the rest of us, is a grand romantic at heart.
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Staff Writer Owen Zoll at firstname.lastname@example.org.