Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE

New Orleans-bred, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Frank Ocean made entertainment headlines last week by revealing a past relationship he had with a man, technically making him the first urban artist to publicly come out. While it was a huge step for the progression of tolerance in mainstream media, part of me wishes that never happened since it was a blatantly obvious marketing move to boost sales. The album is channel ORANGE, currently #1 on the iTunes charts since its unexpected early release last night.

We bash other artists for concocting beefs and various other publicity stunts to increase album purchases, but due to the positive nature of Frank’s public outing, does the album warrant the hype? The truth is, despite my general dislike of Ocean’s perfectly-timed revelation, I could not bring myself to dislike this album.

channel ORANGE is truly an uncompromised piece of work. In the vast sea of extremely generic and overproduced mainstream R&B, Ocean manages to cut through just like he did with his past release, Nostalgia, Ultra. This time, his collective Odd Future has amassed a large following and success, prompting Frank to follow the momentum with bigger production and bolder moves on his official studio debut. Nostalgia, Ultra‘s spirit remains to haunt the album, specifically in the numerous interludes and emotional introspection.

Theme-wise, this experience is very dark. The music lifts your soul, but painfully. This is definitely not a pick-me-up album that you can play anytime. One of the first singles off this album, “Thinking About You,” is a prime example, dragging along in a dazed melody that culminates with Frank’s powerful falsetto during the chorus. Even the lyrically happy “Sweet Life” is propelled by a somber tone and emotional vocals. The more upbeat and fun tracks such as the ten minute-long epic electronic pop fusion “Pyramids,” “Lost” and “Monks” all occur during the middle and provide that much needed break from all the blues. “White,” simply a musical interlude/jam session featuring Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator on keys and John Mayer on guitar is also a fun little reprieve.

Frank creatively executes a variety of topics such as suburban bliss on “Super Rich Kids” (with a somewhat random verse from former urban legend Earl Sweatshirt), teenage parenting on “Sierra Leone” and drug addiction and poverty on the abrasive “Crack Rock,” but the true strength of this album occurs when he expands on the nature of his failed homosexual relationship. “Bad Religion,” one of the most painfully emotional ballads I’ve heard in years, compares unrequited love to a one-man cult suicide. This transitions into a very interesting song about sex, “Pink Matter,” where love-making and science is discussed by a martial arts student and his sensei, followed by an excellent verse by OutKast’s Andre 3000. The controversial “Forrest Gump” marks the end of an incredible album haunted by Frank’s past demons.

While the climate of today’s media revolves around publicity stunts, Frank Ocean felt that coming out was a necessary force to help his listeners understand where he was coming from on channel ORANGE, and it seems sincere by the time you finish listening to the album. While I could do without the overkill of  melancholy, this is an enjoyable piece of soul music.


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