This past weekend we were greeted to a scenario which is becoming increasingly familiar; Frank Ocean airs an episode of his radio show, said show miraculously closes out with a brand new single, single appears on streaming shortly after, bada bing bada boom. The latest entry in Ocean's new model of release cycle is "Lens," a song that also happens to be his weakest finished product in recent memory.
"Lens" is not a particularly bad song---indeed one would be hard pressed to find any song in Ocean's catalogue that is objectively 'bad.' But it does bear the trait of being quite unremarkable. It is predominantly built around a no-fuss keyboard line and a syrupy vocal line so Autotuned one could mistake it for T-Pain. Yet for all the vocal embellishments, its melody is distinctly unmemorable.
These traits feel particularly damning in the wake of the previous standalone singles "Chanel" and "Biking." The former has a highly-sophisticated melody paired with one of his most thought-provoking, daring set of lyrics yet, the latter is an evocative mood-piece that weaves the outside influence of both Jay-Z and Tyler, the Creator without once compromising his vision. On the other hand, "Lens" offers little that we haven't heard before. If anything, it sounds like a lost B-side from Channel Orange, lacking the cohesion and maturity of the songs that would go on to make that album as well as last year's Blond such prestige releases.
It is essential that we assess "Lens" under the same conditions as "Chanel" and "Biking." These three songs are, for better or worse, a unit. Ocean starved his audience to the point of hysteria in the lead-up to Blond, and it has trained us to behave in the same manner now, even though we have received more of his work in the past month than in 2013, 2014, and 2015 combined. It has caused something of a Frank Ocean saturation point, and it has led us to treat each meager single tossed our way with the same reverence as a long-promised full-length. With "Lens," Ocean has finally (perhaps inevitably) missed the mark.