Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
Record Label: Def Jam Records
Release Date: July 10th, 2012
A few weeks ago, I was at the store F.Y.E. in my local mall, and I picked up a copy of Justin Timberlake’s sophomore record FutureSex / LoveSounds for only $5. I was never really into R&B, though I did enjoy a few artists in the genre. I just never have actively listened to a lot of artists within R&B. Well, I had heard of Frank Ocean for a long time, and the next week, I bought his debut record Channel Orange. He’s got quite a buzz surrounding him, and for good reason. I’m just surprised I had never listened to this record sooner, though. Basically, this is one of those records that I should’ve listened to the moment it came out (which ironically was on my birthday this year), but somehow, it escaped my radar. Now that I’ve finally listened to it, this is definitely one of those “surprise” records for me. It escaped me, but I’m really glad I listened to it, because it’s one of the best records I’ve listened to this year, and possibly of all time. Channel Orange is nothing I’ve heard before. I know I haven’t listened to a lot of R&B, but regardless, this is something that breaks down boundaries within the genre. If anything, it crosses over into a lot of genres; rock, neo-soul, funk, electronic, jazz, R&B, and even hip-hop. There are a myriad of sounds in this album, which keeps it very entertaining. Out of the 17 songs on this record, not one is a filler track. There’s something I can take from every song, and I absolutely love that about a record. Ocean also has a killer voice, and that’s the main draw of this record. While the instrumentation and lyrics are very interesting and actually quite unique for the genre, and even just in general, Ocean’s voice is what I enjoy most. He has a beautiful voice that not many artists nowadays can rival. The lyrics are another huge part of the record, too, because Ocean is singing the majority of them (along with a couple of guest rappers as well), but the lyrics are very enjoyable. The main theme of the record is unrequited love, and relationships gone wrong, but there is a lot of imagery and deadpan humor as well. Lyrics are a huge draw for me, so when combined with Ocean’s fantastic voice, the record is very, very, very enjoyable for me.
The record starts off with an intro entitled “Start,” which is a 46-second intro track that just has a jumble of noises, including a Playstation booting up, which is really cool. It leads right into first single “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” which is Ocean’s most popular song from the record, and one of my favorites. This is a song that really demonstrates Ocean’s talents, and it also deals with the main theme of unrequited love as well. It’s a very somber track that’s also quite soothing. Third track “Fertilizer” is one of three interludes that appear on the album throughout the record. This one is based on a song by James Fauntleroy II of the same name; it’s just repurposed as a radio jingle that’s about bulls**t, which is rather clever to be frank. This track leads into fourth track “Sierra Leone,” which is a short and “chill” track that’s all about a relationship with a girl Ocean compares to the country of Sierra Leone in Africa. The next three tracks are some of my favorites. They move out of the theme of unrequited love into the theme of rich people, and how their lives aren’t as great as the media tends to perceive. Fifth track “Sweet Life” just talks about how alluring the lifestyle, and interlude “Not Just Money” follows. That’s a spoken interlude that has a woman discussing how money is related to happiness, and that leads into “Super Rich Kids,” which is one of my favorite tracks on the record, next to “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You.” That song has a more somber approach, but also has a lot deadpan humor, relating to rich people not being as happy as us regular folks tend to believe. It also features rapper Earl Sweatshirt, and his verse is quite enjoyable, actually. It fits with the song, and works to his advantage. Eighth track “Pilot Jones” is another track that’s about love, but it deals with a pair of drug addicts who look to each other for dependence. Next track “Crack Rock” is all about a crack addict’s struggle with the drug, but it’s a track that doesn’t quite strike me. It’s an enjoyable track, but not my favorite.
Tenth track “Pyramids” is where the album really shines, and it’s an integral part of the record; this is the centerpiece of the record, and for good reason. I remember watching Ocean’s performance of this track on Saturday Night Live a few months back, and remembering that I needed to check this guy out. This is the main reason why. This song is the epitome of why Frank Ocean as popular as he is now. This song features everything that I love about his sound; the lyrics are very emotional, the metaphors, similes and imagery is in full force, the instrumentation is very solid and Ocean’s voice is absolutely fantastic here. The song is broken into two parts; the first part is an electronic/funk song about a girl that Ocean is dating that strips at a club called the Pyramid. A lot of the lyrics’ clever moments come from comparing Ocean’s girl to the fall of Cleopatra from Egyptian culture. The second part, which comes in at five minutes in is a much slower song, but still the same song. This time, it’s much more bitter, I guess. It talks about how he left her and now she’s supporting a guy with shady aspirations. This is where the album’s lyrics take a very much more serious and emotional approach, too. The jokes are still there, but they’re much more subtle, and the themes of the lyrics are much more serious. For instance, eleventh track “Lost” is about a confused drug addict who hopes for a better life for him and his girlfriend, and the lyrics refer to him being lost. “Bad Religion” is another track that has some interesting lyrics; it’s a “slower” song, in the sense that the instruments are more orchestral in sound, but still a very interesting one, nonetheless. The lyrics are great because they talk about the struggle between godliness and pleasure that has been plaguing people for centuries. Fifteenth track “Pink Matter” is a very cool track, because it has a very bluesy sound, but other than that, it’s not one of my favorite tracks. The best thing about it, though, is that rapper Andre 3000 plays guitar and has a verse on the track. Sixteenth track “Forrest Gump” makes a reference to the film (and character) of the same name, and essentially, the theme of this song is quite interesting, because it compares the character to a crush that narrator has. Last track “End / Golden Girl” is an 8-minute track that kind of follows in the footsteps of “Pyramids,” in the sense where it’s two parts. The first part “End” is about Ocean and a girl making love in his car with some dialogue being exchanged, and “Golden Girl” is a hidden track at the very end, and it’s about a “golden girl” who provides Ocean with a sense of ease and makes him feel a lot better. It’s a great end to a great album, essentially.