Frank Ocean’s Pitch-Perfect Debut Album “Channel Orange” Soars.

 

Ever since they arrived so very loudly in the hood a couple of years ago, everyone has been wondering who it was that would emerge from the Odd Future collective.

Not withstanding all the bombast and sheer noise, it was obvious that someone would raise their head above the parapet, and it was sort of assumed that that person would be their unofficial lead singer, Tyler, The Creator.

But his official debut solo album Goblin (actually his second, and they all of them release a steady stream of mix-tapes) was surprisingly unimpressive, and was reviewed earlier here.

But with the arrival of Channel Orange, the official debut from Frank Ocean, we have our answer. This is the real deal, and so, clearly is he.

Truth be told, he’s not really part of the Odd Future gang, but hooked up with them after they’d already come into being to act as their sort of unofficial mentor. He’d moved to LA five years beforehand after Katrina had devastated his home town of New Orleans.

By the time Odd Future formed he’d already established himself as a successful jobbing song writer, producing work for, amongst others, John Legend and Justin Bieber. You can read more in Jon Caramanica’s excellent New York Times profile here.

Channel Orange charts the same kind of confessional RnB territory that Drake mined in last year’s, whisper it, somewhat over-praised Take Care. But whilst the baring of his soul is once again the impetus for the album, there is a lot more going on here than that. Ocean is clearly a far richer writer than Drake, and the panoramic vistas he evokes are significantly broader.

The characters that people “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids” for instance, are clearly related to those that drift through Bret Easton Ellis’ seminal Less Than Zero, and to some of those you find more recently in the colourful short stories of Junot Diaz. This is a world where existential angst is played out against a backdrop of urban ennui.

The latter by the way features Earl Sweatshirt, the other individual of substance to emerge from Odd Future.

But as Sacha Frere-Jones notes in his New Yorker review here, the emotional heart of the album is “Bad Religion”, performed here on the Jimmy Fallon Show. It’s also one of the few tracks that alludes to his much discussed sexuality.

Demonstrably, he’s as impressive vocally as he is compositionally. And his ability to cooly move in and out and master any number of genres, and to marry them effortlessly with pitch-perfect production all add up to spell just one thing; Prince.

Ocean is a major find, and this is comfortably one of the albums of the year. 

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