Review: Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”
Is Frank Ocean the savior of R&B and soul?
After gaining momentum with Odd Future and the “nostalgia, ULTRA.” mixtape, Frank Ocean earned even more hype with two appearances on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” last year.
That momentum grew even more last week when Frank Ocean became the first major artist in the hip-hop / R&B industry to announce that he had been in a same-sex relationship (Ocean is presumably bisexual).
Making both headlines and his television debut on Jimmy Fallon, Frank Ocean released his debut album “Channel Orange” a week ahead of schedule and soared to the top of iTunes charts worldwide.
More importantly, if you take all of that hype away, “Channel Orange” remains a brilliant debut album that deserves all of the press and success it receives.
From the introduction “Start” and the lead single “Thinkin Bout You,” which laces an atmospheric beat with emotional lyrics and falsetto vocals, to the bittersweet finale of “End,” the album never stops being compelling.
Frank Ocean is a master of storytelling. Covering themes of love, money, and both together, Ocean shows how dangerous two of man’s most desired objects can be. He explores both ends of the spectrum: intimacy and love versus flawed romance and heartbreak, riches versus poverty and addiction.
On “Sierra Leone,” Ocean and his girlfriend are “making less than minimum wage, still inside our parents’ homes.” The next track, the Pharrell-produced “Sweet Life,” is about a relationship with a rich girl “living in Ladera Heights - the black Beverly Hills.”
“Super Rich Kids,” which borrows piano from Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” describes the carelessness and complacency of wealthy teens. “Pilot Jones” is about a girlfriend battling alcoholism, while “Crack Rock” shines a spotlight on “the gutter” and drug addiction.
“Pyramids” is the most ambitious song on the album, a nine-minute epic that is equal parts electronic and Prince. The song faultlessly equates “black queen Cleopatra” with a modern-day stripper.
On “Lost,” Ocean wants better things for his girlfriend who is “out here cooking dope,” while “Monks” sees a relationship win against the odds – “You mean so much to me / In my world / We made it safely.”
The album’s final tracks are the most heartbreaking and torturous. “Bad Religion” is dedicated to Ocean’s first love, a man on the down-low who could never truly love him back. “This unrequited love - to me, it’s nothing but a one-man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup,” Ocean sings. “I could never make him love me.”
“Pink Matter” features a welcome guest appearance from OutKast alum Andre 3000, making for one of the highlights of the album, while “Forrest Gump” readdresses Ocean’s first love – “You run on my mind, boy.”
It’s been a long time since a mainstream album has been this honest in its blunt emotion and lyrical storytelling. “Channel Orange” was hyped as one of the year’s most anticipated albums – Frank Ocean well and truly delivered.
Top tracks: Thinkin Bout You, Super Rich Kids, Pyramids, Monks, Bad Religion, Pink Matter