Frank Ocean has been bubbling under as one of the most likely superstars-in-waiting for a while now, and his debut album proper, Channel Orange, should help him achieve that.
He stole the show from Jay-Z and Kanye West on their collaboration album Watch The Throne last year and his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra was even better. Happily, Channel Orange sees him fulfil his potential and live up to all the hype.
Obviously his voice is something special, as smooth as R.Kelly, Babyface, Ne-Yo or anyone else you care to mention, but he uses it so well to make music that is more interesting than just slick, insincere R’n’B groove songs.
some of this interest comes from the quirky noises and sounds that make up the in-between tracks, which seem to offer more than ‘skits’ and don’t outstay their welcome. But they’re still forgotten when his honeyed vocals kick in.
Singles Thinkin Bout You and Sweet Life offer a good idea of what Channel Orange sounds like, with a blend of sweet love ballads and upbeat chilled-out party tunes. Sierra Leone is another early highlight, offering one of Ocean’s best vocal performances to date.
There’s a staccato ‘Bennie And The Jets’ style piano riff in Super Rich Kids that works well, as does one of the surprisingly few guest appearances, this one from Earl Sweatshirt. Writing collaborations come from the likes of Pharrell Williams, John Mayer, Tyler The Creator and Andre 3000, but Ocean is very much the master of his own destiny here.
Pilot Jones is one of the few tracks to drag a little, still with plenty of atmosphere and nice vocals, but slightly more aimless, and it’s a relief when the organtastic Crack Rock slides along after it. The nearly ten-minute-long Pyramids had already been teased last month and remains a fantastically-produced track that acts as a great centrepiece for this album.
It would be interesting to see him do more like that, to be honest, but when he follows it up on the album with the Prince-esque Lost, it’s hard to be disappointed, and it takes balls to bring John Mayer in only to have him play guitar on the segue track White for just over a minute.
Of course, Ocean hit the headlines with the revelation that he is bisexual, and Channel Orange ends with three tracks that address his sexuality, starting with the astonishingly good Bad Religion, running through the soulful and powerfully-delivered Pink Matter, which features Andre 3000. The trilogy comes to an end with Forrest Gump, which might seem like an odd way to address a lover, but comes across very sweetly.
Frank Ocean has already made quite a stir with his early potential and his groundbreaking decision to out himself in a very closeted world. Channel Orange shows that he has the quality to be as important an artist as Prince was at his peak, it’s that good and that potentially game-changing. The closing trio of songs are amongst the best to have been released this year, and what preceeds it – particularly the startling Pyramids – means that this album will be right up there in those year-end lists.