REVIEW: Frank Ocean, “channel ORANGE”

Much has been said over the last few weeks about Frank Ocean. It all started when speculation was rife that he was gay. Unlike most artists who would pussy foot around issues of their sexuality, Frank decided to set the record straight. In an open letter in his tumblr page, Frank confessed that his first love was a man.

This seemed a particular risky move, as his confession preceded the imminent release of channel ORANGE. His record label, no doubt, must have been concerned about the effect that this would have on album sales, and the direction it could force Ocean as an artist. Fortunately, any anxiety surrounding sales will surely be muted by the album’s Top 10 debut on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. This is particularly impressive, since the album was released digitally, with physical units being sold a week thereafter.

The album itself is self-indulgent at times. Frank adds layers to the album that provides a much more polished finished. The interlude, Sierra Leone and the End envelope a solid, cohesive body of work. On “Thinking About You”, Frank sings about his first love. The one that will always have that special hold over his heart. The song is classic R&B, and will surely be on one of those “Best of the year” lists, and deservedly so. On “Sweet Life”, he sings about living the good life. “Why see the world, when you got the beach…”

For some reason, listening to “Super Rich Kids” makes me long for summer. I just want to lie on the beach, drinking mojitos and having a good time. Maybe that’s just me. The song itself is a sketchy commentary on the parental absenteeism privileged kids often suffer from. Lyrics such as “Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends”, almost make you feel sorry for the poor saps. I would love to see a music video for this song. Come on Frank, make it happen.

“Pilot Jones” is another standout. If Maxwell were still relevant in 2012, this is what he’d sound like. On “Crack Rock” he talks about being addicted to drugs, and the damaging effects it has on personal relationships.  Taxi cab confessional “Bad Religion” bodes well for the 24 year-old. On it, he equates unrequited love to a one-man cult. Herein lies the excellence of Frank’s music. He is a story teller. A poet. When you listen to these songs, they take you on a journey. A journey with Frank, but also a journey with yourself.

“Pink Matter” and “Forrest Gump” are perfect album closers. The latter, about the Frank’s first love, is the song that started all the sexuality BS. While listening to this album, one thing seemed clear. This is an industry album. It’s about artistry, poetry, great songwriting. It will definitely be lauded with critical acclaim. I predict a few Grammys as well. I’m convinced that people who will dislike this album have been ruined by pop music. There are no glittery pop moments, no big radio songs. Just sleek production on stories worth telling. Definitely adding this to the “Best of 2012” pile. Frank has managed to bring a welcome diversion from the dance-electro songs R&B artists seem to spew out these days. Go get yourself a copy.

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