Two weeks ago, many knew very little about Frank Ocean. The New Orleans-born RnB singer had kept a relatively low profile as a member of the controversial Odd Future collective. A quiet outlier, he scored notable collaborations with Jay-Z and Kanye West, yet managed to breach popular culture without making much noise.
Now, it’s virtually impossible for Ocean to go unnoticed. His recent sexual revelation sent shockwaves through the internet, and his television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon catapulted the young crooner into mainstream allure. The magnitude of Ocean’s channel ORANGE, his major label debut, can no longer be ignored.
Given the hype, some may be expecting the second coming of Thriller. Instead, channel ORANGE is a meditative voyage through Ocean’s innermost thoughts, no matter how intangible the topics.
Crack Rock, for instance, warns against the pitfalls of cocaine usage. Super Rich Kids, its beat evoking Elton John’s Bennie and the Jets, is a nonchalant depiction of young affluence. Here, Ocean shares the spotlight with fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt: “Too many joyrides in daddy’s Jaguar / Too many white lies and white lines.”
Ocean conveys his messages with an innocent zeal, displaying a youthful expression that’s equally reserved and mischievous. On Bad Religion, he bemoans unrequited love. “We’re spending too much time alone,” he says emphatically on Sierra Leone, “and I just ran out of Trojans.” Such statements, set against silky electro-soul compositions, will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Prince.
Except that’s unfair within the context of this project. Ocean’s inflection is more Musiq Soulchild than Purple One, although his voice is more textured and his sound a bit broader. Pink Matter, which nods to early-80s funk, is woozy and downright seedy, but it’s supposed to be that way. His lyrics are equally disjointed as he ponders everything from cotton candy to aliens amid a wafting guitar and ghostly howls.
In the end, channel ORANGE is a direct reflection of its maker. There are moments of assured clarity, juxtaposed with flashes of childlike shyness. What remains is a solid collection of pop-soul renderings through which Ocean tries to find himself. We get to watch his maturation, growing pains and all.
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