Get it out of the way. Frank Ocean admitted he once loved a man. The timing is impeccable, but the info is irrelevant. Ocean coming out of the proverbial closet hand in hand with another dude isn’t shocking. His coming out of Def Jam’s closet with a hit debut on his hands would be however, and that’s exactly what he’s done with Channel Orange.
It’s not as technically astute as listeners will suggest. The dearth of young R&B talent allows for the curve to catch us reveling in anything that isn’t a tinny mix of pop rap, and there are plenty of flaws that anyone with a decent ear can attest to. But Ocean is a man of wondrous ambition and inspiration. Standard soul foundations are corrupted with odd synth lines and Hip-Hop thump, neo neo-soul. Love is professed more for street pharmaceuticals than the person he is taking them with and Ocean’s ability to communicate the desolation of Gen Y is both absorbing and poignant.
Ocean combines both addiction and disconnection in songs like the summer swing anthem, “Sweet Life.” The hazy horns and spritely keys are splayed over a baseline groove that evokes 70’s cook outs and blue lights in the basement. Sounds like fun in the sun, but the lyrics tell a sad story of a perpetual high. That’s closely followed by “Super Rich Kids.” A bit of Elton John’s “Benny and The Jets” can be found under the deadly story of trust fund babies left to their own devices and their parents’ credit cards.
The drug culture also infiltrates “Pilot Jones,” “Crack Rock” and “Lost.” Using, selling and playing care giver to a junkie are all covered with the same eerie detachment that ribonned through Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80. Young adults that are barely out of childhood already sport a cynicism normally assigned to old heads from the school of hard knocks.
The doom and gloom are momentarily held at bay by “Sierra Leone” and “Forrest Gump,” a pair of songs not necessarily depressing, but still far from light-hearted. Fatherhood is the topic in “Sierra Leone,” but the cryptic lyrics don’t allow for much comprehension beyond that. “Forrest Gump” has an almost bluesy feel with the whining strings and church organ, but this song is full of lyrics for folks wrapped in Ocean’s man love story to speculate over. Enjoy.
Love fares no better on the rest of Channel Orange as “Thinkin Bout You,” “Pyramids” and “Bad Religion” find Ocean in the role of disposable lover instead of soul mate. The ten minute “Pyramids” tacks together disparate chunks of music, but slyly ties them together through a narrative that finds Ocean bemoaning being the unemployed boyfriend of a stripper. “Bad Religion” is an extra dramatic episode of Taxi Cab Confessions complete with orchestral strings and melancholy keys.
Ocean’s pair of features come from Hip-Hop’s hermits, 3 Stacks and Earl Sweatshirt. These two are seen as often as Big Foot, so getting them on the same album is a feat. Andre raps more on “Pink Matter” than he has in the last ten years. It’s a nice addition, but not his best 16. Earl Sweatshirt gives a rousing manifesto for Generation Wasted on “Super Rich Kids.” Nicely done.
Is Channel Orange good? Yes. Is it great? Not really, but that won’t stop folks from suggesting it is. There are moments when the production, while ambitious, falls flat (“Pilot Jones” and “Lost”) . And there are moments when the song writing is just flat-out terrible. (“Crack Rock” is just ass.)
You used to get a little cut up from time to time, but the freaks ain’t trying to sleep with cracky.
I can’t be the only person who thinks this line is the funniest thing they have heard all day.
Anyway, the TV skit things that litter the LP make sense, but the songs are so tightly bound to one another, they aren’t necessary. Minus those issues, Ocean has proven that he has a future in this business and not just as Tyler’s hook man. There are sublime moments like the bridge in “Thinkin Bout You” or the guitar solo at the end of “Pyramids” that prove this young man is a talent worth following, despite the missteps on his debut. Maybe that’s not so shocking after all.
3.5 Out of 5
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