Frank Ocean’s new album ‘Channel Orange’ is second to none, and is impressively individual. It features some of RnB’s biggest names like Andre 3000 on ‘Pink Matter’ and Odd Future’s Earl Sweatshirt on ‘Super Rich Kids’, while allowing his own voice to be the central focus of each track.
Ocean’s sound, both vocally and musically, is reminiscent of an early 70s Stevie Wonder. However, the melodies never quite unfold as you might expect them to. The album is luxuriously arranged and each song blends seamlessly into the next. Ocean harnesses an influence of Southern soul and blues, jazz, gospel church organs, and an easy listening funk, all of which are united by Ocean’s tender vocals, soaring falsettos and a shifting backdrop of recorded voices and echoing reverb.
The astounding, nine-minute long single ‘Pyramids’ shifts from ambient, sensual R&B to a soulful guitar solo. It is quite ambitious with it’s lyrical content and production at times, as is the entire album. Thus proving that Frank Ocean is unlike anyone else in the current RnB realm. He does not shy away from making poignant comments on darker topics. Without making judgment, Ocean paints an affecting portrait with each song. For example in ‘Crack Rock’ and ‘Lost’ he touches on the dejection of the life of an addict.
In contrast to this, both ‘Sweet Life’ and ‘Super Rich Kids’ are of a more upbeat nature. The latter boasts a heavy, thumping piano line that forms the beat of the song bringing to mind Elton John’s ‘Benny and the Jets’, while Earl Sweatshirt raps in the verses in his signature gritty and straightforward manner, which allows for a nice contrast to Ocean’s smooth and more refined style. Yet these more buoyant tracks still hit the listener with a harsh reality check – Ocean points out at one point that the financial crisis might bring an end to their sweet lives.
While it may be fickle to make comment on Ocean’s very recent public announcement, it simply cannot be ignored. It is possible that he makes reference to his supposed bisexuality in the album’s opening song ‘Thinkin’ Bout You’, but this isn’t central to the album as a whole. Ocean cannot stop his audience from drawing whatever conclusions they will. While the album plays, you forget the controversy, and delight in Ocean’s dazzling and innovative talent.
When he announced his sexual orientation to the world, Frank Ocean wrote on Tumblr that he does not “know what happens now”. All we can say is that the sensuality, diversity, charm and sheer brilliance of his debut album leaves you wanting more and will hopefully give his career unstoppable momentum.