‘Channel Orange’ was an album that came with a surprising amount of baggage. Firstly, there was the reputation of Frank Ocean as Odd Future’s Def Jam poster boy who was, in many ways, worlds apart from the underground bogie-flicking antics of the rest of the LA crew. There was also the heavyweights that had backed Ocean- Pharrell had expressed a public faith in Frank Ocean’s future. Jay-Z and Kanye West had showcased his crooning on ‘Watch The Throne’ and the worlds press wouldn’t give up on the fact that Frank had previously written tracks for the likes of Beyonce and Justin Bieber. Then came Frank Ocean’s astonishing tumblr post where he admitted to being bisexual by recounting his first and only real love as a man. Maybe the expectations of this record were that it would come with a velocity and momentum that would rocket Frank Ocean to stadium status. What we were met with was a far more humble creature, ‘Channel Orange’ was an album like no other in 2012 because of it’s honesty, purity and undeniably remarkable songwriting.
The LP opens with the humdrum sounds of suburban central America in 2012. Muffled PC noises, and hazy television noises that are seemingly aired out by the protagonist of this record. Then comes ‘Thinkin Bout You’ which is a forerunner for track of the year. It’s a perfectly written love song with narrative, character and a real testament to Ocean’s lyrical ability. The falsetto chorus swims through the soulful, steady production. Then comes Pharell’s production on ‘Sweet Life’ where the lyric “Why see the world, when you got the beach?” showed Frank’s critical lyricism and subtle scepticism after spending too much time in the midst of California. This becomes evident again in the perfectly effortless ‘Super Rich Kids’ where the over-indulged youngsters of America play parallel to the success Frank and his Odd Future comrades have found. “Maids come around too much, parents ain’t around enough.”
For under 3 minutes on track 14, Ocean’s ‘Bad Religion’ is Frank using a taxi driver as his “shrink for the hour”. Speaking of unrequited love with the staggeringly powerful lyric “If it brings you to your knees, it’s a bad religion.” It was a performance of this track on US chat show Jimmy Fallon where people started to expect more of ‘Channel Orange’. The song has a element of admission and despondency which Ocean captures in a way that is captivating.
The LP ends with the sound of footsteps walking up to house, unlocking the door and shutting it. Maybe that’s all we’ll get from Frank Ocean. Perhaps ‘Channel Orange’ was a moment in time where a faultless communicator had something to say. This record almost muted all the hype that surrounded Frank Ocean, he had said what he needed to say and in doing so had put out an LP that was unshrinking, current and conclusive.
Words: Duncan Harrison