Review Summary: A one-man cult and cyanide in my styrofoam cup
In retrospect, releasing "Pyramids" as the lead single from Channel Orange
was a well-calculated, brilliant decision. A profound counterpoint to The Weeknd's 2011 launching point in "House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls", it is truly a modern soul opus (in either sense of the word) with its Dam-Funk-esque, minor funk jam imploding into chilled out electro-soul and an airy closing guitar solo courtesy of John Mayer. Very few R&B songs are deserving of the descriptor "epic", but this is one of the flawless few, with good reason igniting Frank Ocean's hype train to near legendary levels.
Maybe all of Channel Orange
isn't exactly as amazing as "Pyramids", but it mostly delivers on its promises set forth as well as potential apparent within last year's mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra
(if "American Wedding" didn't make you shed a tear, you don't have a heart). As it turns out (not so surprisingly), an album of original Frank Ocean tunes is full of mostly good ideas with respect to production, pulling from a spectrum of popular modern and classic influences - keyboard funk, hip-hop, indie-rock, and electro-pop themed beats are here in full force, yet they are used effectively within the "constraints" of R&B without any singular genre taking over the record. "Super Rich Kids" re-introduces fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt and his more refined/ mature rapping over a slowly evolving piano chord progression, horns, and finally synth arpeggios close out a very laid back hip-hop track (the follow-up to EARL
should be excellent).
After the introductory PSX start-screen sample, "Thinkin Bout You" puts forth the framework of most of the record - chilled out R&B crooning, some falsetto here and there, amidst a hip-hop backdrop augmented by any given genre. But the real charm of Frank Ocean lies within his story telling, and he's at his absolute best when expounding tales of love lost, love wanted, and melancholy - "A tornado flew around my room before you came / Excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn't rain / In Southern California much, like Arizona / My eyes don't shed tears, but boy, they pour when / I'm thinking 'bout you". Ocean's ability to emote within the confines of a ballad without making it saccharine or cheesy is nearly unparalleled by any of his contemporaries (besides Abel Tesfaye of course); every single one on Channel Orange
is stirring. Most of all, "Bad Religion" steals the show here as a piercing, veracious confessional come therapy session. Specifically, he foreswears love as self-inflicted pain:
He said "Allahu akbar", I told him don't curse me
"But boy you need prayer", I guess it couldn't hurt me
If it brings me to my knees
It's a bad religion
This unrequited love
To me it's nothing but
A one-man cult
And cyanide in my styrofoam cup
I could never make him love me
Never make him love me
"Bad Religion" steals a bit of the Andre 3000-featured "Pink Matter"s thunder, but Benjamin's verse follows an equally inspired Ocean crooning over a subdued guitar lick and string crescendo. Beyond his powerful performance on these ballads, Ocean crafts some excellent pop singles in "Lost" (almost reminiscent of RJD2's Colossus
in feel) and the funk-driven, fill-heavy "Monks" with some seriously excellent drums.
With Channel Orange
Frank Ocean has proven himself as one of the most significant artists in popular music today; his next effort will definitely have the potential to be a genre classic. Hopefully, he can remedy some of the inconsistency here by expanding the psychedelic future-funk production style, eliminating the sometimes awkward storytelling on non-ballads, and streamlining the song-writing process to more clearly and properly finish songs as opposed to trailing off. Although minor gripes, these small issues really keep Channel Orange
from being the magnum opus Ocean is obviously striving for.