It doesn’t happen a lot that a record is hailed as such a major event as is the case with Frank Ocean’s official debut album. Critics were enamored with his free internet release nostalgia/ULTRA and his first major label release is treated as a paradigm shift in urban contemporary music. The Brain Trust decided to assemble and tune in to Channel ORANGE to find out if the programming is worth your time or not.
While mostly known for his lyricism and less so for his vocal abilities, Frank drops a falsetto
performance into opening track “Thinkin’ Bout You” that quickly evaporates any lingering doubt one might have. Strong melodies are coupled with often minimalist but effective production and penmanship of the highest order. Even songs like “Pilot Jones” that may seem meandering at first reveal themselves as gems after multiple listens in the headphones. Centerpiece “Pyramids” is a ten-minute masterpiece brushing up against electro, soul, pop, hip-hop, rock and who knows what else, effortlessly blending genres and production styles into a seamless epic. The album contains a myriad of heavy emotions and topics, from drug abuse (“Crack Rock”) to unrequited love (“Bad Religion”) but despite its brutal honesty doesn’t take itself too seriously to inject some humor into the proceedings as well (“Super Rich Kids”). Channel ORANGE just has it all.
Frank Ocean is undoubtedly a genius songwriter. As evidenced in his earlier mixtape, nostalgia/ULTRA, his words have the power to immediately envelop your ears and transport you to his engrossing tales of love, life, heartache, pain and joy, all while making the listener feel as if his experiences are theirs. He set the bar incredibly high for his work and with “Channel ORANGE”, I don’t feel as if he reached it. While I love “Thinking About You”, “Sierra Leone”, “Sweet Life”, “Pyramids”, “Bad Religion” (which has been on repeat since the album dropped) and “Pink Matter”, that’s only HALF the album. The other songs I have listened to once or twice and probably never will again, while I still listen to the Nostalgia/Ultra mixtape religiously and in its entirety. Strangely, in spite of this, I’m still not disappointed in “Channel ORANGE”, because Frank’s words and music touch me and give me hope in the re-emergence of real R&B music. And maybe, just maybe… those other tracks will grow on me… Eventually.
The summer of 2010? I was discovering Odd Future with EARL. 2011 was spent seeing how far OFWGKTA had grown, primarily with Tyler’s opus GOBLIN. Frank Ocean, with his proper major label debut in Channel ORANGE, has owned my 2012 OF listening. I don’t even get that into R&B these days, but dude’s a great writer. And has a great voice. I was big off of a remix of “Thinkin Bout You” by Styles&Complete for a while, but tracks like “Crack Rock”, “Super Rich Kids”, “Sweet Life”, “Forrest Gump” and “Pyramids” showcase Frank’s beautiful voice drenched in the ink from his beautiful pen, weaving seductive tales that seem to be about one thing, but can be taken a different way with a slight dip. Dude’s got MC sensibilities, so he layers his lines where they can be taken a few different ways. Great hazy summer listening, and the soundtrack to the new youth movement.
I wasn’t one of these “fans” of Frank Ocean’s music. I liked a couple of songs but never really that interested. However, “Channel ORANGE” is very enjoyable and it’s definitely worth the money that he’s asking for it. And that’s not something I say about many albums…
Don’t fret — the most gifted new kid in R&B hasn’t lost his mind. Well, in a way he has. When you think about it, it’s nuts that Frank hasn’t succumbed to the dreaded major label pressures. Rather, channel ORANGE picks up right where the mixtape masterpiece nostalgia/ULTRA left off, mix-match title and all. This album is very much an extension of the emotional anguish Ocean introduced on his too-good-to-be-free debut. Songwriting is outstanding. Production is focused. Even that shallow vocal range seems to have widened with practice. There’s plenty to admire here and bravery is one of them. Since “The Letter,” older songs like “Thinkin’ Bout You” and “We all Try” have taken on deeper meanings, revealing that those gender allusions/omissions weren’t accidental. But allow yourself to get caught up in that pronoun game and you’ll miss his brilliant use of double entendres, warm keys, vivid poetry. The emotions he’s channeling on standouts “Bad Religion” (unrequited love) and “Thinking Bout You” (insecurity) are beautiful not just because of Ocean’s attention to detail, but because they’re universal.