Frank Ocean - Channel Orange
‘Whoever you are. Wherever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike,’ Frank Ocean recently deliberated in an open letter posted on his blog. It marked the beginning of two paragraphs that would have Ocean whipping up a viral frenzy through his beautiful, honest, and heartfelt admission that his first love was in fact another man. A week later, his hotly anticipated album Channel Orange was released earlier than scheduled and there were cries of publicity stunt.
Whilst his self-leaked debut Nostalgia, Ultra was traditionally structured, Channel Orange is peppered with interludes: a soundtrack to modern life that includes iPhone message tones, PlayStation switch-on jingles, and female words of wisdom backed with the ticking of car indicators. Ocean has an entire phonebook of go-to collaborators, but chooses only Odd Future prodigy Earl Sweatshirt for thirteen brilliant, lethargically delivered bars on ‘Super Rich Kids’; John Mayer for a longing guitar solo on ‘White’, and Outkast’s André 3000 for a nonchalant spoken flow on ‘Pink Matter’, a haunting track of primitive funk and loss.
Ocean is difficult figure to pin down. There is an enigmatic feeling to much of his songwriting, an intermingling of pronouns and characters that often makes it difficult to distinguish biography from narration. Album highlight ‘Pyramids’ reinvents Egyptian ruler Cleopatra in ten minutes as an untamable prostitute in six inch heels. ‘She’s working at the pyramids tonight’ Ocean croons over a track that begins as a climatic dancefloor groove with a catchy synth hook, gradually dissolving into a slow jam of percussion-ridden strip club sleaze. It couldn’t be further from ‘Bad Religion’, an admission of unrequited love in the back of a taxi, with its organ opening, impassioned James Brown-esque cries, and heartbreaking lyrics: ‘I could never make him love me’.
Whilst much of modern R&B has been debased in recent years by certain individuals, Ocean strips it back to its roots: poignant piano-powered R&B, with added touches of modern production. What perhaps is most striking about this album (and what most people instantly lost sight of) is Ocean’s stunning capability as a storyteller. Channel Orange gives voice to many, from the jaguar-driving, moneyed teens of ‘Super Rich Kids’ to the drug-addled, isolated protagonist of ‘Crack Rock’. Ocean sings about men, about women, creating a plethora of make believe experiences that are neither solely his own, nor specifically another’s. He reiterates the fact that despite our varying contexts, regardless of who’s sleeping in our beds at night, our experiences - of love, of family, of despair - are universal.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 08:07:56