Album Reviews

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

(Mercury) UK release date: 10 July 2012

Frank Ocean - Channel Orange Last week, Frank Ocean released a statement on the internet. The response to it was unprecedented, spawning countless think-pieces and analytical commentary attempting to get to the bottom of exactly what his declaration meant for him, and the music industry as a whole.

With Channel Orange, Ocean offers us another statement, but this time, it’s not pieced together in capital letters on Notepad. This time, it’s just talent, plain and simple. We can read into it what we will, but outside any inferred reference to Ocean’s personal life, the quality of the music speaks louder and clearer than tens of thousands of essays on the man could.

References and echoes of Prince abound, because Ocean affects a similar dismantling of what actually constitutes a song or genre. For Ocean, rules and figures of phrase know no boundary. There’s the overwhelming sense that every part of Channel Orange is in there because it ‘sounds’ good, a cherry-picking of life’s cacophony repainted into the most enchanting of collages.

Essentially, Channel Orange is an album about love. It’s seeped in the stuff, and not just the flippant stuff the teens of the pop charts call ‘love’, but love at its most beautiful and transcendental. There’s the gliding falsetto and silky synthetic shimmers of Thinkin’ Bout You, the twinkling Stevie-esque electric piano of Sweet Life. And sweet it is, a joyous affirmation to living life with eyes open wide, soaking up the experiences of youth. Channel Orange hasn’t so much been crafted into being as grown from the passion of one man, an extension of the Frank Ocean psyche into audible form.

Never is this truer than on 10 minute epic Pyramids, a behemoth of a song that flips from its funky synth bassline to the lithe enunciation of Ocean’s wordplay with leopard-like agility. It seems to exist divorced from competitors, a piece of music that is so singularly of Ocean’s creative entity it’s as if mind, body and end product have suffused into a symbiotic being.

When Ocean chooses to bring outside influence in, it’s on his own terms. Short skit White sees a dreamy guitar solo from John Mayer and production duties from Ocean’s Odd Future co-star Tyler, The Creator. It’s only a minute long, but even in such scant duration, Ocean’s artistic choices bear dividends, contributing to the wider tone of Channel Orange.

Any question of Ocean’s sexuality is by the by. Bring it into discussion of his work, its themes, its underlying metaphors, but it’s important it never becomes the defining trait of what Ocean is about. Because to do so would do a great disservice to what he has managed to create here. When Pyramids is dubbed the ‘Paranoid Android of R&B’, it’s without a grain of irony or inflation – it genuinely is that good.

As Channel Orange reaches its end, every emotion associated with it can be traced back to one: fulfilment. And that’s how it leaves you – immensely fulfilled. Ocean understands the complexities of satisfaction, the buttons that need to be pressed with tenderest caress, the emotions that need to be stoked to arousal: a love of life, music, and chiefly, love itself.

Listen to Channel Orange in full:

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