ALBUM REVIEW: Frank Ocean's "Channel Orange"
Let’s try to stick to the music here. Frank Ocean is such a natural talent that he doesn’t need any outside controversy to draw attention to himself. This didn’t stop circumstance, or perhaps fate, from doing just that, however - leading Frank to confess his love for another man in years past, sending the Hip-Hop world in a frenzy, skyrocketing his Twitter followers through the roof, and leading Def Jam to release his album, Channel Orange, digitally, a week in advance. Yeah, just music. It’s one thing to start a war on society’s perceptions, and another to make a great album. Frank Ocean has done one of these.
The record begins with the sultry “Thinkin Bout You”, and rightfully so. The ‘duck-for-cover’ accident single exploded to popular heights, and speaks to who Ocean is at the core of his musical self - an awesome songwriter. “Monks” and “Bad Religion” serve as two examples of this. The first, a wildly entertaining anecdote about groupies from the UK and Indian girls longing to escape over kicking drums, while the latter hits a more personal, and somber, note: “Taxi driver/ Be my shrink for the hour/…just outrun the demons could you?”.
The best showing of writing skill is in the hazy guitar inhabited, Andre 3000-assisted “Pink Matter”. While 3 Stacks is leaving listeners awe-stricken with an unpredictable flow and mind-boggling lyrics, “If models are made for modeling/ Thick girls are made for cuddlin’”, Ocean fits Kung-Fu, Dragonball Z, and an unborn child into his part - and not fits - like, forced. Fits like perfect. None of Frank Ocean’s lyrics are boring, cliché, or too outside the realm of understanding. They wander, having you guessing what he truly means, while leaving room for your own interpretation. They are near perfect.
“Crack Rock” tells a melancholy tale of drug addiction that leaves you hanging from a cliff, until you are instantly lifted from your sudden free-fall into the high activity, high lust, flashing lights filled show that is “Pyramids”. You would think that the 10-minute single would be the center block the rest of the tracks revolve around; this done by length, and by quality. On the contrary, it flows just as well as the one-minute John Mayer guitar solo, “White” - a testament to how important every song is to the overall project.
As much as the album is one of words, it is also one of moods and tones and emotions and vibes that gel together beautifully. “Sweet Life” has a summer bounce that only Pharrell can bring, and “Super Rich Kids” is a masterfully catchy and nostalgic take on a spoiled child’s disdain with his pampered life; plus, Earl Sweatshirt is on it, adding to the fun. Channel Orange is a bit everywhere. Nevertheless, it’s not scattered to where the listener feels rushed and lost; they actually get a taste of everything they want.
When the closing song, “Forrest Gump” was about 30 seconds in, my friend turned to me and said, “I really liked the song, until he said "boy’”. Being the most direct stance in favor of homosexuality on the album, this is understandable. But I disagree with the idea of not enjoying good music. Frank Ocean has placed himself above genre borders and identity labels with Channel Orange. This is not summer time music, nor deep music, nor soul music, nor weird music, nor gay music.
This is great music.