H&B Review: Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE
Frank Ocean is an artist I’ve followed – like many – since Nostalgia, Ultra. I remember finding this tape on Hypebeast or Madbury and clicking the download button simply because anyone with a metallic BMW M3 on his album cover must be good, right? I was blown away by the level of lyricism and pure singing talent the man possessed even now at the early age of 23. There was a different tone to his storytelling that, something that other artists in this category (if he can sensibly be placed in a category) just didn’t have. Ocean – real name Christopher ‘Lonny’ Breaux – found a niche. There’s something gritty and raw about his lyrics, something that artists like Usher will never touch. On top of this, the lyrics are delivered with elegance and class, a quality not out of place on a Bobby Womack record – something so alien to friend and labelmate Tyler, the Creator, its untrue.
Ocean was brought up in New Orleans, Lousiana. His early career consisted of ghost writing for many big artists, making a decent living bringing other artists success. Subsequent to this, two mixtapes were released by Ocean, the aforementioned Nostalgia, Ultra and an extensive catalogue of unreleased music, The Lonny Breaux Collection. These two pieces of work had some incredible tracks contained on them and they both received high critical acclaim.
In July of this year, Ocean released Channel ORANGE, a 17 track studio album co-produced and featuring many of the industry’s big names. I personally believe this to be his most complete and well rounded collection to date. The songs really do mix well, it does have that sort of studio album feel about it. There are three or four stand out tracks for me that show Ocean’s progression as an artist. I think they really represent the work that he has put into this album and whilst he’s not finding a new direction, there’s an even greater honesty about his music which I think people will really admire.
Thinking About You is a ballad, a story of someone torn between being a stranger and being purely addicted to someone. The chorus is somewhat haunting against the frank verses, like two sides of the coin. Sierra Leone really reminds of bits and pieces from the Lonny Breaux collection. Driven by 808s, it’s a half talking half singing piece about living in the heart of diamond country. I personally really like Sweet Life, its a really upbeat jazzy piece. It has a really calming melody against an apparent backdrop of “keeping it surreal” lyrics, a trademark of Ocean’s. I don’t believe Super Rich Kids to be a fantastic track despite what many reviews I have read have said. I find it a bit too typical of Odd Future’s style to talk about things like that and I thought Ocean might steer clear of this in his latest works. I don’t want to go through everything (although not far off) so here are my three favourites. Firstly, Bad Religion has to be the most introspective song that Ocean has ever undertaken. It is fantastic not only in content but delivery also. Its a man voicing inner conflicts and thoughts over religion, a man loving but not being loved: ‘“Can never make him love me”. Secondly, there is Lost. I just love the track for its originality and funkiness. This really should be a single, it has pop appeal along with some fairly meaningful lyrics. Lost is a keeper. Finally I come to Pyramids. Pyramids is the best song Ocean has ever released, it is a song that has almost every emotion and every musical genre contained within it, the best section being about four and a half minutes in (this is the part of the track from the teaser that Ocean released a few months before Channel ORANGE came out). It is just a rollercoaster of a track which really tests Ocean’s ability to reach different audiences and I think he takes on the task with great ease.
On the whole I would recommend this album to anybody really, there really is something for everyone on this disc.