Musiq Soulchild called and wants his clone of the 2010s back. It took two rotations through Ocean’s full-length debut to appreciate its entirety rather than scoff off parts of it as disconnected, frivolous material. The album hits the ground running with track two’s “Thinkin Bout You,” winds itself through irrelevant 40-second blips, and crescendos into pure sexiness with “Pyramids” emotionally-loaded 9 minutes. The wait for Channel Orange was well worth it as it reigns in a new era of hip-hop and R&B; Ocean is openly bisexual which is made clear on “Forrest Gump,” an ode to his first encounter with a male relationship when he was 19.
Guest appearances by the likes of John Mayer, Andre 3000, and up-and-comer Earl Sweatshirt add a wide breadth of musical influences while all-stars like Pharrell Williams lent a hand in producing the record. What’s admirable is that Ocean doesn’t let the easily-recognizable (and commonly dominating) Neptunes sound shine through anywhere. Nor does he conform to conventional track lengths. The 9 minutes and 53 seconds of “Pyramids” (daunting as it may be) transitions from an upbeat metaphor utilizing Egyptian motifs, to an oddly seductive song about a stripper that makes his unemployed self feel like the most important man alive. The guitar solos that are found on more than just one of these tracks only amplifies the drawn-out quiet storm Ocean manages to create with minimal, repetitive lyrics.
Standout tracks include “Thinkin Bout You” (which features some killer falsetto), “Pilot Jones,” “Lost,” “White,” “Bad Religion,” and “Pink Matter.” “White” is the short instrumental featuring John Mayer that gets the mood going, but unfortunately is out of place on the album; it would have fit nicely between “Bad Religion” and “Pink Matter.”
The (Less) Good
There’s nothing on this album that screams “blatantly terrible.” However, interludes like “Fertilizer” may come off as a nuisance to some and a critical component of the whole work to others. The excessively slow rapping of Earl Sweatshirt on “Super Rich Kids” is almost frustrating at first until you give in and go with the flow on the second listen. The reincarnation of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love” on this track was a genius incorporation, but also somewhat of a letdown to see sampling from such a creative powerhouse. Receiving inspiration from others came out in other parts of the record as well: there are hints of Swedish House Mafia (“One”) on “Pyramid” and Ryan Leslie (“Diamond Girl”) on “Monk.”
Nevertheless, Channel Orange is a solid release that is fresh, 97% organic, produce. Themes of unrequited and challenging love run through the veins of Frank Ocean and manifest themselves through this debut. The Fridge is looking forward to what’s in store for this young artist.