Nothing is more frustrating than two middle aged hip-hop artists rapping about money and their excess of it. Bare with me... One raps, "What’s 50 grand to a muhfucka like me." The other raps, "Doctors say I’m the illest, cause I’m suffering from realness." I can be forgiven for giving an album 4.5 with lyrics like this (not to mention the murder of a brilliant Otis Redding song). I'm of course talking about Jay Z & Kanye West - The Throne. Why am I bringing this up?? Because the significant mature moments on The Throne were delivered by none other than Frank Ocean. He wasn't the biggest name on the scene, he also wasn't the biggest name in his possy, Odd Future. His mixtape 'Nostalgia, Ultra' was lacking something. It never really took off musically, he knew that his follow up needed to be massive. I'm not talking, massive like a Lady Gaga album.. Massive, musically. You won't have a massive release singing over other artists songs, it's not creative at all.
Straight after my above statement comes track one on Channel Orange. I stick to my guns, it's not creative sampling the Play Station start up noise. I must have heard this intro 500 times before on soundcloud by the same kind of nostalgic wannabee producers. That's the beauty of this album though, it has the good, the bad and most certainly the ugly. 'Thinkin Bout You' does have a really fresh sound to it. It's the wah wah, synth like bass that takes the track way above the delayed drum machine. Ocean has his baritone vocal layered in a R. Kelly / Akon style. His voice isn't that fresh or unique when you compare him to the R&B masses who have had hits galore. I'm not talking about the soul singers either, they're on a complete different level. There is an element of soul on Channel Orange. Soul, jazz and R&B were always gonna mix with the alternative hip-hop style. Thinkin Bout You is a great track, it really is. The simplicity matches his lyrical imagery.
Ocean sings, "Our daughter's reachin' for the nipple cause it's time for her to eat. Tonight I'll lay her in the cradle if it's time for go to sleep. I sing a Lennon lullaby, she can have a pretty dream. Baby girl if you knew what I know, knew what I know." There's a slight sense of J.D Salinger here. Ocean uses realism and profanity to get his lyrics across, and he does it so gently. The lyrics above are from the slow moving two minute 'Sierra Leone'. The following track is among my favourites. It's been touched by Pharell, which grants it permission to be an awesome track. The production is phenomenal and the soul aspects of Frank Ocean come out. Screams of Marvin Gaye come forward with the twinkly keyboards, light human drumming and the loud bass guitar. The brass enters and it all clicks. The lyrics are outstanding on 'Sweet Life', "Livin' in Ladera Heights, the black Beverly Hills." The lyrics, the support vocals, the baritone vocal, the production and the chorus.. It all summarizes, making Sweet Life an easy listening / clothes shopping music (not that this is a bad thing. I just think it would sound nice in Next, no product placement here at all). 'Not Just Money' follows and segueinto 'Super Rich Kids' with the theme of money, or lack thereof. This track has a rather stark beat, but an excellent vocal by both Ocean and Earl Sweatshirt. The lyrics are dignified and respectful. Taking real life factors into consideration, just reading the track name will tell you what the track's about. The piano is similar to Elton John's 'Bennie and the Jets'. Taking that into account, looking a both tracks, they can be comparable in an ironic fashion. With John's lyrics being about rebelling against parents deliberately, and Ocean's about rebelling almost apathetically, with a silver spoon.
'Pilot Jones' has a really soothing bass. The synth is respectful, but never really takes off. This is a short track that's surprisingly over three minutes long, because it could be a lot longer given more instrumentation and more lyrical segments. It's not nearly the most enjoyable track on Channel Orange, but it adds a bit of flavour into the mix with the deep bass. I always enjoy overhearing someone repeating "Ice cold", Hey mother fucking Ya. 'Crack Rock' is the last track on side one. It features a drumming sample of 'Little Miss Lover' by The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It's a drum pattern I love, and have sampled myself.. So have Oasis, successfully. I don't think it works in the slightest here.
Next comes the fantastic synth heavy and antagonizingly beautiful thriller 'Pyramids'. This is the centrepiece of the album. Pyramids can be called somewhat of an 'epic'. At almost ten minutes long, it's by far the longest on the album, and the most flowing track lyrically. The lyrics can be interpreted differently, but the general theme is there. Love, loss and deception seem to be the re-occurring theme on Channel Orange, and Pyramids is no different. Ocean uses the historic Egyptian figure of Cleopatra as an example / character in his story. He tells a story about losing his love to someone else, with the lyrics referencing historical dealings, with a real emphasis on sounding historic. It separates the second half of the track where he eventually wins back his lover, in a modern world. behind the scenes, this is a song about straight up prostitution, and the momentary love which is short lived and unrequited. The music progresses nicely, with a striking synth riff which is slightly fuzzy and a loud, deep bass with a sharp drum machine on the second half of the track. The two halves segue brilliantly, this is an outstanding track and clearly the superior track on the album.
'Lost' has a nice little keyboard riff, though I do believe Ive heard this before. The vocal is alright at best. The percussion is arguably the best thing about this track. I'm liking the new wave sort of style to the track, except the drumming of course. It's a very clear track with music that sounds like Prince. 'White' has a jazzy brass section. The bass is extremely heavy and doesn't really do anything. It's just a short instrumental and plays its part in separating Lost to the next track, 'Monks'. This time we have a funk style rhythm. The beat is very jazzy with the symbols and the drumming. The guitar does the funk needlessly and Ocean sings a very poetic track about casual sex, lovely.
The most melancholic track on the album is the organ anthem 'Bad Religion'. Ocean sings a very sweet song in a beautiful way. Using a taxi driver in a confession sort of style. With the driver just being somebody that will listen. It's a tremendous track which builds up and finishes in a brilliant high. I absolutely love the organ sound which moves from the left to right speaker and back in a circular motion. This track features the irrelevant homophobic lyrics, "I can never make him love me. Never make him love me." It's a waste of time talking about Frank Ocean's sexuality, however this track ends perfectly with lovely organs, Ocean's sentimental vocal and the keyboard. It flows nicely with 'Pink Matter'. This track is another soft and sweet one. There's a reverberated guitar riff on the right side with lovely soundscapes and hollow sounds. Ocean sings delicately, a little more withdrawn than before. We're coming to the albums finishing moments, this might be why Ocean delivers this type of vocal. The lyrics are far more sadder than the first half of the album. Pink Matter also has a curious verse by Andre 3000 of Outkast. The back half to this track is much more lively with a standard drum rhythm and layered vocals by Andre and Ocean.
'Forest Gump' is a comical track. Much like Pyramids, Ocean uses a character.. This time an actual character, to get his lyrics across. He uses the character Forest Gump and some of the actions he takes and relates it to unrequited love. Ocean does it in such a subtle way, the listener may never realize. It's a funky, motown-like track which ends the run of five/six outstanding tracks at the back of the album. 'End' features a very sparky vocal which ranges from quiet to loud vocals. It has rain, the sound of a car and reverberated vocals which give the track a different level of dimension. There's two levels of this track. It's not exactly a brilliant ending track, but it has a nice ring to it.. As someone gets out the car in the rain and walks away back inside a house, the end.
Channel Orange takes influence from a number of sources. They're all respectful and make a piece of the Frank Ocean jigsaw puzzle. The soul vocals, R&B structures, jazzy brass and alternative hip-hop base all accumulate with delicious synths, drum machines, clear cut vocals and truly excellent lyric. What has happened outside of this album is irrelevant, what we have is seventeen tracks of original material. Granted, some are much better than others and that's clear for all to see. This album never really has a low point, it doesn't dip in form and I'm consistently entertained. Channel Orange will not stand the test of time, however I think the tracks like Pyramids and Thinkin Bout You will make no end of 'best of' lists in the future, they're outstanding tracks. Frank Ocean delivers his vocals with passion and his lyrics are the money shot here. The production team must be thanked for their contribution, and the musicians. This is a Def Jam album, with Frank Ocean as a branch.