Frank Ocean is officially a superstar. He has graced the pages of just about every newspaper and blog across the Western world over the past week or so. By now, you’re probably aware of the revelations Ocean made about his sexuality in a beautiful passage intended for his album’s liner notes, in which he informs the reader that his first love was a man. I won’t spend much time on this, because while it was unquestionably courageous move for him to make, I don’t want something (that should be) as trivial as sexual orientation to overshadow what Ocean has done with Channel Orange. What he’s done is put out one of the most dramatic and spectacular albums of the year.
The album arrived a week early, premiering on iTunes and Frank’s website, likely intended to coincide with Ocean’s spectacular performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. What ensued was a sort worldwide listening party, with the comment sections of various publications playing host to everybody’s thoughts. One memorable one suggested that Channel Orange “had become more of an event than simply an album.”
It all started with “Pyramids,” a free download that’s as magnificent as it is long. Clocking in just under 10 minutes, electro-funk melts in to a slow-jam chronicling the protagonist’s pursuit of an elusive woman named Cleopatra. Next came Pharrell co-write “Sweet Life,” a smoothed out jazz-funk critique of the privileged residents of Ladera Heights. Huge group vocals make for one of the most memorable choruses on Channel Orange, with Ocean belting out “you’ve had a landscaper and a housekeeper since you were born/the starshine always kept you warm.”
This drama is just as abundant throughout the rest of the LP, with Ocean flaunting his falsetto on the gorgeous, swelling “Thinkin Bout You,” and his unquestionable aptitude for heart-stopping balladry on the magnificent “Bad Religion.” He also calls on Odd Future associate Earl Sweatshirt for the stuttering “Super Rich Kids” (someone’s been listening to a bit of Elton John). He indulges his pop sensibilities on tracks like “Pilot Jones” and “Lost,” whose melodies are catchy and memorable enough to rival top 40 hitmakers but are always delivered in Frank’s trademark, left-of-center fashion.
Anyone familiar with Ocean’s 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia, ULTRA, won’t be surprised by the brief interludes that often separate tracks, though on Channel Orange they’re more often comprised of television sounds than tape decks. Regardless, there’s a notable consistency between the two LPs. While the lush production and recording quality might be much higher, Channel Orange is as atypical and unpredictable as its predecessor. However, the subtle intricacies, the sense of melodrama, and the storytelling are at their absolute peak.
Like the tales Frank tells, the album feels like it has so much more behind it than what appears after one or two listens. Channel Orange is Frank Ocean doing what he does best, the best he’s ever done it. If you feel so inclined, you can stream the entire album [here].