With his personal life and sexual preferences bared to the world, via a very public admission of having been in love with a man, Frank Ocean made his first blip on the radars of pop culture watchers the world over.
While tongues wagged over whom he chose to shack up with, his debut LP, due imminently, became one of the most hyped and talked about records of the year, due largely in part to the flashpoint/controversial issue of his sexuality. Tsk tsk for small minded modern man, but all good for Frankie O.
Entitled channelOrange, this is the first showing from one of hip-hop/R&B’s most celebrated, young and upcoming singers/songwriters; but is it worth its weight in all of the buzz it’s generated in the last month?….
channelOrange is at once modern, with the polish of 21st century, chilled out, R&B and urban beats, yet undeniably influenced by the soulful sound of the 1970s; a golden time for soul and funk music. Unlike his contemporaries, Ocean has managed to put together an R&B record that is troubled, heartfelt and romantic simultaneously, without name dropping any liquor, top of the line vehicles or smacking a$$.
With what can be best described as an effortless poetry that belies his youth, Ocean navigates through the lonely and broken landscape of his mind and his thoughts, recalling anything from drug addiction, to rollercoaster-esque love affairs and dysfunctional lovers (drug toting, older women no less!) before surfacing in the more superficial territory of the rich, the famous and the pampered on tracks like Sweet Life and Super Rich Kids, two of the album’s many shining moments. At points he even waxes philosophical/metaphysical (maybe it’s the “bowls of that green, no Lucky Charms” or the “wines we can’t pronounce” kicking in) on tracks like the aptly titled Monks and Pink Matter which features one 1/2 of Outkast and Jimi Hendrix’s reincarnation, Andre 3000.
The LP remains cohesive in terms of its chilled, laidback, best-served-with-a-bong groove, which bubbles along like a, slow moving, Saturday afternoon with some kush at one moment before swinging into a more funky and upbeat production on the next track. The near ten minute long Pyramids, which is somewhat reminiscent of the kind of moody, urban pop Justin Timberlake crafted on Future Sex Love Sounds, is the closest the album gets to mainstream pop, exploring the world of a hard working dancer girl and her parasitic man.
His sexuality now a topic for public discussion, many of the songs leave you listening with a ‘new ear’ as it were…particularly the heart-wrenchingly honest taxi cab confessional to an Arab driver that is Bad Religion.Truly a standout moment on this album, it is as if he is actually recounting a dark and tortured hour in his life, where his reality and the persona he has created and tried to maintain begin to clash. Fragile, vulnerable yet bold and powerful, it is a modern classic if you ask me. The playful Forrest Gump, with its cheerful whistles and sing-song chorus alludes also to a male crush/object of affection for Frank as well.
What’s most apparent on this album is that Frank is an old soul, his delivery and style reminiscent of younger Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and even Prince at times – coupled with his unique, wise beyond his years flow lyrically and stylistically, he has crafted an album which sets him FAR apart from his cookie cutter contemporaries. It is clear he is not content nor interested in teaching you how your kitty cat works or throwing bottles up in the club.
Though Bad Religion,sits in a category all by itself, Super Rich Kids, Sweet Life, Pyramids, Thinkin’ About You, Sierra Leone and Forrest Gump are some of my favorite moments on this record.
I give channelOrange a 4/5 pinkys. Excellent, refreshing debut; it’s neither R&B, nor pop, nor hip-hop, simply, it cannot be defined, only enjoyed, much like Frank Ocean himself.
*Lennology is a opinionated music blogger who resides in Barbados.
View his site here: lennology.