It’s terribly hard nowadays to try and discuss an album one enjoys without sounding too preachy, too emotionally attached and too, well, in love. I’m not sure if that’s a facet of the times or perhaps, it’s always seemed that way (did everyone get annoyed when every single album by Stevie Wonder was universally loved or was it justly expected?) but usually, when new music strikes so hard, it’s easy to let go. Wonder makes a nice comparison for R&B/soul mastermind Frank Ocean who seems to be indubitably indebted to Wonder’s fantastic take on music. After a reconciliation with his label – noting how very wrong it was of them to pass on Ocean’s fantastic mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA, forcing Ocean to release it independently for free – Ocean has created the vastly rich channel ORANGE.
Comparisons to Wonder do both artists justice because of how they treat music as the beautiful art form it truly is, rather than a mode to make some quick cash. When Def Jam decided to pass on the aforementioned mixtape Ocean wanted to release the album for the sheer joy of ensuring people could hear his strong brand of R&B music. After its release he immediately got to work on channel ORANGE, recording in whatever studio was available and most of the album was finished by the end of 2011. Concentrating on the album as some kind of book, a film almost, where Ocean could remain anonymous from the music, the album finds Ocean sounding both assured and superbly brilliant. With motions of jazz, dub, electronic soul and gorgeous compositions, it doesn’t feel wrong to be entirely in love with channel ORANGE.
Like Wonder before him, and Marvin Gaye and Prince, Ocean treats the album as an art form where a story can be told. Rather than working towards delivering a ‘hit single’ or ‘radio jam,’ channel ORANGE plays out like a realistically vivid concept album. Each song paints a different picture of life that finds Ocean recounting stories about abandoned homes, lost loves, addiction and realism. The music is layered with an attention to detail that showcases Ocean’s hungry drive; as much as he’d prefer to stay out of the limelight, there is no denying his skill on full display here. Ocean’s voice is a thing of beauty – clear, crisp and almost, divine – he speaks of truth in an unabashed manner. Songs like “Super Rich Kids,” which just happens to feature “Real Love” by Mary J Blige, sound amazingly singular and still, timeless.
The album cycles through each channel on television with impressive ease and Ocean dresses each song with treatments and adorning decorations in fantastic ways. On “Pyramids” he sings about falling in love and being with a stripper and as he sits alone and unemployed, watching her prepare for work; his star-like synthesizer and driving beats make for an excellent release. His melancholic approach and gritty lyrics are honest; he channels the hurt in a way that is so mesmerizing: you feel the pain and angst in every small space. On “Thinkin Bout You” he details the tears in his eyes as he reflects on past times and still, he wonders about what the future may bring. And while the song’s soft tones make for a clear delivery, Ocean’s voice is front and center.
It was well documented how Ocean revealed his bisexuality and the moments on the album where he sings about the first love he could never forget – the duality of the moment is all that matters. For Ocean, who maintains he didn’t want to be the ‘focal point’ of channel ORANGE, his humble and sincere approach makes for wondrous results. Regardless of sex, age, gender or preference, the love one feels is universal and as beautifully rich and bold as this album is, it’s definitely something we should all love – unabashed and all.