Frank Ocean-Channel Orange Review


Frank Ocean-Channel Orange

Since making a splash with his mixtape ‘nostalgia, ULTRA’ last year, Frank Ocean has been going from strength to strength in the RnB music world. Despite gaining critical acclaim as a member of OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) the Odd Future boys failed, as a group, to appeal to a diverse enough market and gain the levels of success Frank Ocean has received from solo releases, ‘Novacane’ and ‘Swim Good.’ It was his solo mixtape that caught the attention of Jay Z & Kanye West and earned him a spot on their album track ‘No Church In the Wild.’ He has even ghost written for stars such as Justin Beiber, John Legend and Beyonce.

His style of RnB isn’t the same as you would expect of the 90s styled practitioners. His music is much more experimental and adventurous.  Laced with artificial sounds and peculiar arrangements, it has allowed him to appeal to many different music audiences with his modern style but still maintain his large following of hard-core RnB fans.

In terms of raw vocal power Ocean’s vocal ability isn’t in any way as strong as other RnB singers such as R. Kelly or The-Dream, but while they have seen a decline in sales in recent years, Ocean has seen his fan base grow.

Recent events have catapulted Frank Ocean into the public eye when he published an open letter on his tumblr airing the story of his unreciprocated first love for another man in his late teen years. The buzz created has been enormous and his name has indeed been everywhere in recent weeks. The brave act, seldom seen in the Hip Hop and RnB worlds, has been widely commended by his peers and fans alike. Here’s hoping that with the release of his new album Channel Orange  his music can become the main talking point of discussion.

Channel Orange is, by all accounts, a debut album. While in no way a master piece, it is filled with plenty of solid tracks and he has commendably not tried to “over pop” his music for the sake of some added sales.

Opening with track ‘Thinking Bout You’ which leaked in July 2011, it is simple in terms of production and vocal performance; however, the message of a man clinging onto a love that can’t last is powerful enough to propel the song into full-on hit status.

While the theme of love has always been present in RnB hits, singing about rejection from the male point of view has rarely ever met the high standards set by Ben E. King with his 1963 version of ‘I Who Have Nothing’.

Tracks like ‘Bad Religion’ and ‘Forest Gump’ truly show the extent of Ocean’s pain. Singing about his conflict with his religion and personal life, the string sections on the track are fitting forthe tone of the song. In ‘Forest Gump’ Ocean exclaims that “I can never make him love me” – and all the glamour and sensualisation of the pronoun is stripped and all that is left is raw pain. The pain felt is not pain exclusive to those of a certain gender or sexuality, but pain that is far too familiar to anyone that has had the misfortune to experience such rejection.

‘Pyramids’ is no less uplifting. While I found myself nodding my head to the beat, on reflection, the lyrics, and hearing him cry out for the woman of the night to stay with him, the stark reality of the song is revealed. Once again, his love is not to be reciprocated and that her love “ain’t free no more.”

‘Sweet Life’ is the stand-out track on this album for me. Another brutally honest track, it was co-written and produced by Pharrell Williams and tells of the pleasures of having money and what it can bring. Sung to a well arranged piano and bass accompaniment, it is a great summer track based around bliss and ignorance at the same time.

‘Super Rich Kids’ is a great follow up. Singing about the poor rich kids who have the misfortune of taking drugs without watchful parents and submissive staff, I didn’t find myself sympathising with the people about whom the track speaks – but perhaps, in the grander scheme of things, we were never supposed to. We can only wonder how it is that Frank can sing with his tongue planted so firmly in his cheek.

‘Pink Matter’, towards the end of the LP, is a wonderful track. With Andre 3000 making such a well-fitting appearance, I could think of no-one better to strengthen this masterpiece of a song.

All in all, I was mildly surprised to find that this album actually lived up to the hype surrounding it. In staunch contrast to modern RnB albums, Ocean set out to tell his story and invites us to bear witness to his unique artistry. The bravery for which everyone is currently applauding him in recent times is nothing compared to the bravery displayed in laying himself bare on this album. Although some of his new found supporters might feel let down by the album for not overly trying to capture the pop crowd, FAULT always commends artists who choose integrity over playing it safe. Although the album is, admittedly, not a masterpiece, it is a glimpse at things to come. As we watch Frank Ocean grow and hone his talent, I can see great things to come for him – and indeed RnB as a previously dwindling genre – in the coming years.

Words:Miles Holder