Review Summary: Frank Ocean officially loses himself, and relies on us to pick up the pieces.
Admittedly, deciding to drive to Savannah, Georgia wasn't a well-planned decision. I essentially had no idea it was going to happen until it happened, and so the whole affair was incredibly hasty. Upon preparing for the trip back home, I looked through the list of necessary items, and added “a good playlist.” It made sense, right? After all, I've got that new Intronaut album I need to review in the next couple weeks, so it would definitely help to become familiar with the band's discography, yada yada. And that idea had good intentions, but it simply didn't happen. I listened to the album once, sure, but my mind was so fixated on other releases that I didn't absorb the experience like I should have. My mind kept running back to Channel Orange
-- the album I rented from the local library last week, the record that had been playing in my car during all the smaller trips. Once I realized this, nothing else would do.
Frank Ocean's first full-fledged contribution to the R&B world made the ride a blast. There's something special about being on the road for four hours, thinking about everything you'd prefer not to think about, as the playful “Crack Rock” coalesces into the shimmering intro to “Pyramids.” The transition makes much more sense in this context, and it illustrates something that's very important to understand about Frank Ocean. I think he really does feel similarly in his life, like he's always going and never really
reaching his destination, persistently driving towards that sunset until there's not much sunset left to drive towards. It's an exhausting experience, too; that whole “it's not the destination, but the journey itself” philosophy can be pretty shoddy in that regard. And it seems Ocean knows this, because throughout the duration of Channel Orange
it's clear that the musician probably isn't completely satisfied with the album. Considering its obviously meticulous production and vocal performances, Channel Orange
endlessly strives towards perfection. The album's a learning process, though, and there are certainly a couple of things that weren't as effective as they could have been. Ocean probably wishes he could extinguish his songs just as interestingly as he ignited them in the first place, and I hate that this means he probably didn't get as much out of the album as his fans did.
We've all lived and breathed Channel Orange
at some point in time, and sure, Frank set that musical train in motion in the first place, but he hasn't gotten to ride it and probably never will. He probably won't ever feel the purpose behind “Super Rich Kids” while driving through the parades in Savannah on St. Patrick's Day, an event where college kids like to pretend their ancestry allows them infinite access to alcohol. Did he have this in mind while writing the song? I can imagine so, in some sense of the word. Will he ever see it really come to life like I have? Doubtful.
The most interesting thing about Channel Orange
is that it conveys all these conflicting emotions-- caution a la “Crack Rock,” perilously strong desires in “Thinkin' 'Bout You,” etc-- in such a cohesive manner. It's impossible to imagine the album without any of its key tracks, even the subtler ones. Even “Pilot Jones,” subdued and cautious as it is, finds a home in between all the neon lights and bombast present. This album covers so much ground it can't really find a home at the end of the day, which is precisely why it's such a perfect fit for me.