Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Sweet Life, the fifth track on Frank Ocean’s sophomore release begins with the line “the best song wasn’t the single” and there couldn’t be a more fitting album for that lyric to be on than Channel Orange. There is no shortage of tantalising tracks which results in a very holistic record from the extremely talented 24-year-old.
Ocean has undoubtedly been the man of the moment in recent times after his apparent coming out which shook up the hip hop world earlier this month. His bisexuality is also referenced in songs from this latest release, but more on that later.
The follow up to 2010′s self released Nostalgia, Ultra picks up where its predecessor left off. Ocean’s seductive vocals craft an aural aesthetic that is gentle yet powerful and occasionally dark all at the same time.
Many hardcore fans believed that a return to Def Jam, the label he signed with in 2009, would lead to a more mainstream release for his first studio album. In spite of this, there are very few moments in Channel Orange that would lend themselves to successful mainstream radio play. This is by no means a negative attribute, as the offbeat production, which features the flourishing and fading of melodies, is perfect at times, to a diverse sound throughout.
In many ways Channel Orange is similar to Nostalgia, Ultra, as it thrives on the young crooner’s ability to craft a compelling story; in a way that few artists have been able to master since Slick Rick’s The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. Frank’s voice is calm and peaceful, bringing to life multiple narratives over the course of the record.
When looking past the serene vocals and dreamy production, you being to understand that lyrically, the album has some overly dark themes. Super Rich Kids, featuring fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt, is a great instance of this. From a distance it seems as if the song is glorifying the privileged life. On closer inspection though it clearly laments the often overlooked plights of wealthy children; particularly the line: “Maids come around too much / Parents ain’t around enough”. This then alludes to depression and suicide as the subject of the song ends his day on a roof and contemplates jumping.
Earl’s strong cameo in the song is one of three guest appearances on the album. A lonesome and captivating guitar piece from John Mayer in White and two short and extremely sharp raps from André 3000 in Pink Matter all maintain the high standard set by Mr Ocean.
It could be said that the highly controversial tumblr post was intentional and used as a means to stir up controversy and create buzz for the release of Channel Orange. This might have been the case had we been talking about anybody else. After listening to this album, it is clear that everything Ocean does is completely natural and genuine. He pines for a female for much of the album but there are many instances where it is not necessarily specified, which adds to the albums universality.
Hip hop and to a lesser extent R&B have been bounded to conventional gender specificity and Frank seems unafraid to break away from this. The incredible Thinkin Bout You is a great example of this, whether he sings about a man or a woman is not mentioned nor needed, the song is just a pure, slow grooving and extremely captivating love song.
Standout Tracks: Thinkin Bout You, Super Rich Kids, Bad Religion, Sweet Life
Final Thoughts: Channel Orange is, simply put, an album you can listen to 100 times over and still discover something new and be captivated each time. Not only is the vocal talent there, brilliant production and lyricism are of paramount importance, producing a depth rarely seen in modern music. It will be interesting to see where Mr Ocean moves creatively from this point forward, but from the looks of Channel Orange, the future is incredibly bright.