Music: Frank Ocean’s ‘Channel Orange’

TO TALK about Frank Ocean without addressing him publicly coming out as bisexual a week before his album Channel Orange is difficult. Within the traditionally homophobic hip hop/R&B scene, this is not just a statement about freedom of expression but a tribute to Ocean’s honesty as a writer. Ocean’s lyrics deal with love and sexuality in a raw and occasionally uncomfortable way. On the early album highlight ‘Sierra Leone’, a heart-breaking yet touching tale of unplanned pregnancy, he sings over a sparse electronic backing that only serves to highlight Ocean’s soaring vocals yet still leaving him exposed and fragile. It doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t from experience, Ocean sings with a sincerity that draws you into the parade of broken characters he portrays over the album.

The album is ambitious in its production, incorporating multiple different styles; from the Pharrell Williams infused Neo-Soul sound of future party anthem ‘Sweet Life’, to the aggressive back beat that underlies ‘Crack Rock’, a rare anti-drug song that doesn’t feel cloying or patronising to its audience.

It could never be said that the album is perfect as at seventeen songs running to over an hour altogether, it would be unlikely if all of them were hits. There is a mid-album lull of tracks, such as new wave tribute ‘Lost’ and unnecessary blues interlude ‘White’, that are listenable to but not as powerful as the album’s centrepiece, ‘Pyramids’, a swirling, immersive, stunning track which threatens to leave the rest of the album in its wake. It is to Ocean’s credit that it doesn’t. Even into its last tracks, Channel Orange is consistently powerful and retains momentum.

Ocean has been a ghost writer for artists such as John Legend for years but Channel Orange is his major label debut. It declares Ocean as a talent to watch and, despite his youth, not one to be taken lightly.