Entertainment & Arts

Frank Ocean unveils visual album Endless

Frank Ocean Image copyright AFP
Image caption Frank Ocean won the best international male solo artist prize at the Brit Awards in 2013

R&B singer Frank Ocean has ended months of speculation by releasing an 18-track visual album streaming exclusively on Apple Music.

Titled Endless, the record features contributions by James Blake and Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.

It is accompanied by a 45-minute, black and white video of the artist at a working on a construction project.

The record appeared early on Friday, almost three years after it was first announced.

In a statement, Apple Music said fans should "keep an eye out this weekend for more from Frank".

The release is also expected to include a printed publication called Boys Don't Cry, distributed in Apple's retail stores.

Endless is the first album from the R&B star since the award-winning Channel Orange in 2012.

The accompanying video in which (spoiler alert) the musician builds a spiral staircase resembles a live stream that first appeared on the artist's website two weeks ago, sparking a flurry of reports the album was due for release on 5 August.

When it failed to appear, Apple representatives told disappointed fans they were "waiting for the artist".

There is no apparent reason for the repeated delays to Ocean's album. He claimed to have completed it last year and at least one of the tracks dates back 20 months.

(At Your Best) You Are Love, a cover of the Isley Brothers' classic, recorded at Abbey Road, was initially posted on Ocean's Tumblr blog in January 2015, marking the anniversary of Aaliyah's birth. She had also covered the song on her debut album in 1994.

But according to Rolling Stone magazine, Endless itself is only a placeholder, with the star's "proper" new album due this weekend.

That record was previously called Boys Don't Cry, but Rolling Stone says the singer has scrapped that title in favour of an alternate title.

Image copyright AP / Getty Images
Image caption Beyonce kickstarted the trend for releasing surprise records with her self-titled album in 2013

Analysis: Why artists like Frank Ocean prefer "surprise" albums

It's been called "Beyoncé-ing" - suddenly dropping an album on a digital service, with little or no fanfare.

This year alone, Rihanna, Kanye West and Radiohead have all done it. Beyonce, of course, had to go one better - bundling her album with an Emmy-nominated HBO special.

Why do artists prefer to do it this way? Two reasons: First, it reduces the risk of an album leaking, as it cuts out CD pressing plants, distributors, publicists and journalists - all of whom have been the source of leaks in the past.

Secondly it virtually guarantees publicity, without the artist having to consent to interviews or tedious promotional tours. Even better, if the album isn't up to scratch, you get acres of press coverage before the critics pounce.

But what does this mean for people outside the music industry bubble? How confusing must Frank Ocean's album release seem to the person who buys two CDs a year at Asda? Do they even know it exists? And, if they do, how do they listen to it?

The music industry is increasingly enamoured with these surprise releases but it would never happen for a blockbuster movie, which requires months of carefully-planned placement and positioning. For latest Harry Potter book, Waterstones ran a huge advance publicity campaign, along with a release date and price. That is almost unthinkable in music now.

Unless, of course, you're Adele.

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