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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