Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Frank Ocean‘s Channel Orange is a nightmare of an album to review, not because it’s a bad piece of work or even because of the circumstances that surrounded its release (read: Frank Ocean broke the ice about his still unclear sexuality just days before the album’s release with a painful recounting of his failed relationship with a man — a huge no-no in the heteronormative R&B world). Instead, the difficulty of reviewing Channel Orange lies in the fact that its such an intimate experience that it probably shouldn’t be dissected out of respect for Ocean. That emotional purity and the special way that Ocean seems to deliver it make Channel Orange an engaging and heartwarming listen from start to finish. He may be bisexual, but his pains and murmurs of unrequited love ring true to a much wider audience (it’s no wonder that he found success early on in his career writing songs for Beyoncé).
Interestingly enough, what makes Frank Ocean so particularly endearing may or may not even be the music he manages to make; his wit, charisma, and uncharacteristic nonchalance for someone with so much pain inside him carry him more than far enough. Perhaps even more interesting though, is that this doesn’t even matter in the grander scheme that is Channel Orange. From the bittersweet reminiscing of “Thinkin Bout You” to the outpour of regret and contemplation on “Bad Religion” to the ten-minute magnum opus that is “Pyramids”, Ocean spins a tale of desperation and heartbreak so real and so personal that we can discover exactly who Frank Ocean is, regardless of what we may or may not have heard about him. “This unrequited love, to me it’s nothing but a one-man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup. I could never make him love me,” he explains to a non-suspecting taxi-driver on “Bad Religion” — and suddenly, we know he has some secrets about his sexuality. On “Pink Matter”, he questions, “What do you think my brain is made for? Is it just a container for the mind?” — and we feel both his mind and brain at work. When Ocean’s flawless falsetto accentuates the hook on “Thinkin Bout You” and he croons, “Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking ’bout forever,” we feel Ocean’s nostalgia for the past he loved and the future that never was, all in the present tense. Over the course of the album’s intentionally sparse 17 songs, we discover much about Ocean while at the same time, he encourages us to discover more about ourselves as he carefully pieces each vignette together and invites us to reflect alongside him.
Ocean is far from what you would normally expect from an R&B star, but he does represent everything that you’d hope to find in one. That, perhaps, is much more important.