Review Summary: Immaturity in the form of R&B
80/100 - The New York Times
83/100 - Reviler
7.8/10 - Pitchfork
4.5/5 - Hawks
Perhaps I'm missing something – maybe Nostalgia, Ultra
has a certain subtlety that my ears fail to discover? Perhaps not.
Frank Ocean – the sexy side of Odd Future – embraces the power of R&B with his debut album Nostalgia, Ultra
. Frank is no stranger to the music industry either, co-writing songs for Justin Bieber, John Legend, and Brandy amongst others. With this sort of experience, you would expect a certain lyrical maturity from his work – unfortunately, for the most part, we don't get this. What we do get is a kid stumbling into the occasional heartfelt moment, plagued by a lack of depth – or intelligence for that matter.
There are some aspects to be liked about the album. The well placed use of sampling provides an interesting take on the originals – ”Strawberry Swing”
uses Coldplay's track of the same title; “Nature Feels”
uses “Electric Feel” by MGMT; and “American Wedding”
uses, of all things, The Eagles' “Hotel California”. The interludes are fantastic as well. These short sound clips of Frank switching cassette tapes gives the album a very personal feel – as if this is a mixtape Mr. Ocean made for you. The tracks ”Strawberry Swing”
and ”Nature Feels”
are clear highlights on Nostalgia, Ultra
. "Strawberry Swing”
is an incredibly heartfelt recollection of childhood memories while ”Nature Feels”
is a clever display of sexual wordplay. The rest of the album fails to follow suit though.
With the album starting strong on ”Strawberry Swing”
, it seems ironic that the song ends with the buzzing of a morning alarm. The dream is over. Without the use of samples, the song's instrumentals become quite insipid to say the least. Most appear minimalist - which isn't a bad thing per-say – but really fall flat in the end. The tracks just feel hollow, which in turn accentuates Frank's voice. This would be fine, that is if Frank didn't rape the ability to auto-tune. Sure, his use of auto-tune is subtle when compared to, say, T-Pain. The problem is when you start to hear it on every track, it really wears thin. It's truly tragic that he uses it so often; his voice is nothing short of fantastic when shown in a natural light. Of course it doesn't help Frank's case that his lyrics are quite childish too. Frank attempts at substance on the track ”Swim Good”
with the chorus:
”Imma try to swim from something bigger than me
Kick off my shoes and swim good, and swim good
Take off this suit and swim good, and swim good, good”
If you heard someone speaking like that you would probably speculate if they were mentally handicapped. The thing is, if there is a lack of lyrical depth, you would at least expect the artist to rhyme to keep it catchy. Frank rarely does that though, and when he does, it's painfully obvious:
"My friend said it wasn't so bad
you can't miss what you ain't had
well I can - I'm sad
and there will be tears"
Man, if that doesn't make you cry then what will. The album, lyrically speaking, is perfectly summed up by the track ”LoveCrimes”
in which Frank draws out the same, boring lines for about 4 minutes:
Murder she wrote
Ultimately there isn't much more to say about this album – especially considering it doesn't say much for itself. The beats are uninspired; the lyrics are downright stupid at times; and Frank kills the one positive – his voice – by auto-tuning it incessantly. If it weren't for the occasional moment (see sampled songs
) there wouldn't be anything to discuss at all. R&B should be clever, well produced, and above all things, sexy. Nostalgia, Ultra
is most certainly not.