By John Glynn
From time to time, a musician comes along who just blows you away; ladies and gentlemen, meet Frank Ocean. Right now, Ocean is probably the biggest name in music, both for his artistic ability and his honesty (in the notoriously judgmental world that is hip hop) regarding his bisexuality. Melodically soothing on the ear, Ocean possesses a relaxed, inviting influence, morphing soul, jazz, electro and R’n’B styles into a seductive final product. The 24-year old burst onto the scene as an offbeat singer-songwriter after releasing various mixtapes and free downloads. However, “Channel Orange” is his debut full length commercial release.
Ocean’s profile escalated after teaming up with the contentious LA hip-hop group Odd Future, to whose explicit material Ocean added a high level of decorum. His individuality and bravery has captured the imagination of people across the globe, not to mention the search engines that these same people use. The man from New Orleans has been toting up Bieber numbers on Google and YouTube. But, as we all know, publicity — particularly erratic internet publicity — is a double-edged sword. Ironically, it can be ill-timed admiration that leads to an untimely expiration of an artist.
Fear not, Ocean’s genuine talent is worthy of this consummate praise. Even on the very first spin, Channel Orange offers one or two gems. ‘Pyramids,’ with its stylish synth hook, has emerged as the song of the summer. It plays out for just under ten minutes, but it is nine minutes and fifty three seconds of pure bliss. It has some clever lines, with Ocean delivering this great verse: “Pimpin’ in my convo / Bubbles in my champagne, let it be some jazz playing / Top floor motel suite, twisting’ my cig-arrs / Floor model TV with the VC-RRR.” I think it is a sign of Ocean’s immense talent when he can embark on something as grandiose as Pyramids – what with its running time and fickle narrative describing Egyptian royalty and Las Vegas strippers- and make you hit repeat.
Ocean’s got melodies on tap, and even when his stories begin to lose their structure, there is still something that keeps you thoroughly enthralled. ‘Bad Religion’ is the track that many people were eagerly awaiting; it explicitly discusses Ocean’s bisexuality. The sincerity is almost tangible, with an emotionally charged string section driving the personal confession. Truly remarkable.
In between tracks comes a disruptive racket involving TV channel-hopping and white noise. I feel this bizarre collective of clamor is a metaphor for our often limited attention span. The modern day Stevie Wonder need not worry, zoning out while listening to this album is not an option. The American has released a debut which is inventive and shows why he is quickly becoming the face of R&B.