Channel ORANGE by Frank Ocean, The Island Def Jam Music, 2012.
New Orlean’s native, Frank Ocean has written for Beyonce and Justin Bieber, as well as performed with Jay Z, Kanye West, and Odd Future. Channel ORANGE is his major label debut as songwriter and singer. iTunes categorizes his music under Pop, but this feels more like an R & B album, comparable to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Prince, and D’Angelo.
Frank Ocean’s Channel ORANGE is a breathtaking album that is complex not only in the song arrangement but in the lyrics as well. Ocean is an amazing storyteller and on this album he takes listeners through a wide variety of characters and situations. Many of the songs deal with lonely people in quiet desperation. On one end of the spectrum, you have “Super Rich Kids,” in which Ocean describes the aimless lives of kids with all the advantages but none of the emotional connection.
“Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce
Too many bowls of that green no lucky charms
The maids come around too much
Parents ain’t around enough”
The song begins with the speaker sitting on his roof admiring the view and ends with him threatening to jump. In a completely different world, Ocean describes a different kind of desperation in “Crack Rock”.
“You’re smoking stones in abandoned homes
You hit them stones and broke your home”
Musically, Frank Ocean has as wide a range as his narratives. His voice is incredibly versatile moving from a high falsetto on songs like “Thinking About You” to a deeper baritone. His songs are mostly slower, mid-tempo, almost relaxed and sparse in their arrangements. Some songs, like the ten-minute song “Pyramids” are more experimental in nature, and like the rest of the album consistently interesting and enjoyable to listen to.
Channel ORANGE feels like a game changing R & B album. Frank Ocean is so wildly creative both in his music and lyrics that the album becomes better with each listen.
The album has an “Parental Advisory” label for some songs that include profanity and explicit sexual content. On the whole, the album explores its themes of friendship, drugs, love, and sex in a mature and realistic way, without the kind of misogynistic or homophobic content in more popular music.
Why did I include this title?
I read some early reviews of Frank Ocean’s album on Pitchfork.com and became intrigued. I love classic R&B but am unfamiliar with more recent artists. I’m so glad I decided to give Channel ORANGE a listen. It has turned out to be my favorite record of the summer.