A Review of Frank Ocean’s Debut Mixtape-Nostalgia, Ultra

A track-by-track analysis of one of Frank’s most underrated projects-Nostalgia, Ultra.

A Review of Frank Oceans Debut Mixtape-Nostalgia, Ultra

As an avid Frank fan, I would like to review one of my favorite albums of all time, and the most underrated one is Nostalgia, Ultra. A lot of fame surrounds Blonde and Channel Orange(which is wholly deserved these albums are masterpieces), but less talked about is the gem that is Nostalgia Ultra. I’ll be talking through Nostalgia, Ultra song by song, and my overall thoughts on the album.

Track 1– “Street Fighter” This introduction is named after the popular Street Fighter game series. Frank would be 12 years old at the time of this release in 1999, thus making it the perfect fit for the Nostalgia Ultra theme of Frank reminiscing on his childhood, filled with the sentiment of nostalgia.

Track 2– “Strawberry Swing”
Sarah Baer already elaborated a bit on this song in her “Top 5 Frank Ocean songs” article. I won’t go on too much about it because honestly if you’re reading this article you probably read Sarah’s, but it follows the happy memories of Frank’s childhood and his relationship with his childhood best friend. While I’m here I’m also going to note that I was the one who introduced Sarah to Nostalgia Ultra, so you’re welcome for your favorite song, Sarah.

Track 3- “Novacane”
Novacane(one of the only Nostalgia Ultra songs that is actually released on Spotify) follows the narrative of a love story, and the consequence of blind desire and falling in love with the wrong people. It opens with “I got what I wanted”, demonstrating how Frank was able to get the girl he wanted, but it did not necessarily fulfill his actual needs. He follows the

opening line with “Did-didn’t I can’t feel nothing”, insinuating that he could have doubt that he was able to actually get what he wanted, and also playing into the theme of numbness and his inability to feel anything(which may have been what he originally was looking for, yet he doesn’t necessarily think it was a good thing). Throughout the song, he discusses his story of falling in love with a girl he met at Coachella, who unfortunately is very addicted to drugs, and as a result of her addiction, he feels that he has to abuse the same drugs as her to become closer to her. While sonically it gives a chill vibe, the lyrics differ from what you expect, and really seem to emphasize love and numbness. He actually repeats the word “numb” many times throughout the song, with he chorus including “love me none, love me numb”, and the bridge “Novacane novacane/Numb the pain numb the pain”. He even ends the song with, “I can’t feel a thing, I can’t feel feel feel her”, demonstrating his utter numbness.  A music video for Novacane was released in 2011, and Frank himself says that he was trying to “connect or articulate visually the feeling of being numb”. This seems to be another theme present throughout the song, how Frank was in a very numb part of his life, both with his love interest and the apparent effect of using drugs.

Track 4-“We All Try”- This song encapsulates Frank’s faith in humanity. He starts out the song with things he believes in, alluding to his various beliefs, “I believe a woman’s temple/gives her the right to choose”, communicating his pro-choice view, and how marriage is not necessarily between a man and a woman. He then goes on to say that “you gotta believe in something”, and follows this with “I still believe in man”, which epitomizes the theme of the song, that although people make mistakes, Frank believes “we all try”. He knows that despite the wrongdoings of mankind, people try their best to be decent people. He also repeats the phrase “you gotta believe in something” throughout the song, emphasizing how he feels he needs to put their faith in something and encourages others to do the same. He even ends the song with “try to believe(just try) I do believe I do believe”, giving an encouraging tone to the audience.

Metal Gear(1987)

Track 5-”B*tches talkin’”- This track is named after Metal Gear, a game series released the same year that Frank was born. The interlude features a small skit of Frank talking with a woman, with “Optimistic” by Radiohead playing in the background. The track ends with the woman demanding Frank play something other than Radiohead, like Jodeci, and then moves into the next song.

Track 6– “Songs for Women”- Now to my personal favorite- “Songs for Women”. To start off, I personally love this track sonically, the beat and instrumentals really add to the overall sound. The song is based on the idea that Frank always wondered if he was writing songs to impress women or genuinely for himself. He starts off by admitting that he writes songs for women but discusses the response he receives when he tells people this is that it is unfair, and he basically says “oh my bad”(more explicitly). He then continues an anecdote about writing songs and losing his passion, thereby losing his own woman’s interest in his songs. He goes back to the dialogue of someone asking him if he sings songs to impress women, to which he responds that he never does. The person responds by saying he doesn’t believe it, and that Frank stole his girlfriend. He responds by saying that the girl broke his heart, and now he writes about “heartbreak and love lost”. Finally, he ends the song by discussing how he does write songs for women, and shifts it to speak to the listener, saying “songs for you, baby/For you”. Overall, Frank admits that he does, indeed write songs to impress women, and in some ways that’s ok.

Track 7-” Lovecrimes”- Like many songs, people have different opinions on the meaning of “Lovecrimes”, but it seems to be about the crazy outcomes that can come from love. “Murder, murder murder she wrote/Love Crimes, love crimes” is the chorus of the song, which probably refers to abortion.

Track 8– “Goldeneye”- The track is just the sounds of someone starting a record on a record player, and the name references a video game that Frank probably played when he was younger.

Track 9– “There Will Be Tears”- As you can probably assume by the title, this song is just unbelievably sad- with Frank’s discussion of his absent father and the death of the only father figure he had, his grandfather. He describes his grandfather as being “the only dad[he’d] ever know”, and conveys how he felt he had to conceal his reaction to his death because the young boys around him didn’t have dads either, and he didn’t want them to know he was crying. He writes about how his friend says “you can’t miss what you ain’t had” referring to the absence of his father, and he responds by saying “he can”, conveying the pain that can still come from the absence of a family member, even if you didn’t know them personally. The chorus of the song consists of “There will be tears, I have no doubt”, and continues to say that there may be smiles, but when the tears run out, “we’ll be numb and blue, blue”, bringing a melancholy tone to the song, and seemingly similar to the numbness discussed in “Novacane”. He refers to his dad, “I can’t be there That’s all you had to say to me was you couldn’t be there”. He clearly illustrates his frustration towards his father for not even telling him he wouldn’t be there for him. Despite the pretty instrumentals and Frank’s beautiful voice, the song itself has a dark theme.

Track 10– “Swim Good”- Another sad track, “Swim Good”‘s upbeat sound completely contacts its lyrics. The song follows a man’s grief/guilt that makes him want to escape his pain through doing a horrible act. He experiences pain due to heartbreak, and it ultimately drives him crazy. Frank uses the metaphor of the ocean, saying that the person is going to “swim from somethin’ bigger than” them, to allude to his intentions.

Track 11- “Dust”- This song is about love, and moving on from heartbreak. One of the main messages of the song is to “keep writing, and keep living, and keep loving”. Frank encourages people not to hold on too much to the past, but rather be able to acknowledge it and move on. The song opens with the metaphor of a library- “Who’s that talking in the library?”, referencing people’s life experiences, with each book being a different experience. He alludes to his past regrets, saying that some books he’s “not too proud of” and some he wishes he could burn. He acknowledges his own flaws, as to be more realistic and relatable to the reader, and ends with his main message to persevere and push on through past hardships.

Track 12- “American Wedding”- This song samples “Hotel California” by the Eagles. There was actually a bit of controversy over this song when Frank claimed that the Eagles threatened to sue Frank for performing the song live, however, nothing really seemed to come from this. Similar to “Hotel California”, the song discusses aspects of American culture among other things. He opens the song speaking of his first true love, whom he rushed to marry and held an

Frank Ocean performing “American Wedding” live in 2012, probably against the Eagles wishes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fljMQn4-IRk

atypical marriage, having a court-house wedding. Even so, he still holds on to his vows. The chorus of his song criticizes the traditional American wedding, pointing out how most of them end in divorce anyway. He goes on to describe his wedding with the girl, describing the way she signed the term papers “in fancy fancy cursive”. He then describes how the girl says they should get a divorce, and immediately follows it with, “it’s just an American wedding”, seeming to insinuate that this is a typical feature of American weddings- they end in divorce. He states that they “don’t mean too much” and “don’t last too long”. He ends the song conveying how much he wants the girl to stay with him, so much so that he would rather take away his car(a Mustang), aka any material possession he owns, than have to break up with her. He knows the permanent connection he had with this woman, saying “This wedding ring won’t ever wipe off”. Yet, he ends somehow in a pessimistic and ironic tone, alluding to how he knows their love was probably not going to last anyway, saying it is “love made in the USA”. The final lines refer to the common patriotic statement put on items made in the USA, and Frank is making a statement on the failure of most marriages and love in the US.

Track 13– “Soul Calibur”- This is another track that consists of someone changing cassette tapes. The name refers to a videogame from his youth. With the many mentions fo video games from Frank’s youth, it’s clear that the theme of nostalgia continues to be emphasized as the album progresses.

Track 14– “Nature Feels”- The final song samples “Electric Feel” by MGMT, and I won’t really go into detail about this particular song because it is pretty much just a sexual song.

Final thoughts: Sonically, I personally love Nostalgia Ultra and think it on par with his other 2 released albums, but because it is unreleased, it’s not nearly as popular. Lyrically, many of the songs off of Nostalgia Ultra seem to hit themes of love, heartbreak, loss, and nostalgia. I overall feel that Frank did an outstanding job of conveying many complex feelings about different topics, and has many tracks that are vivid and communicate perfectly. My favorites of the album are “Songs for Women”, “There Will Be Tears”,  “American Wedding”, and “Strawberry Swing”, but all the tracks are so unique to me that it’s hard to pick favorites. Also, this is your encouragement to listen to Nostalgia, Ultra if you have not already. It really demonstrates Frank’s ability as a songwriter and producer.