channel Orange Def Jam*****
Frank Ocean outed himself as the most interesting man in pop last year. The Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape from the New Orleans-born singer, and least likely member of the Odd Future collective, was a showcase for Ocean’s dreamy, whip-smart, seductive, space-age soul. You heard where he was coming from in terms of sound and style, and he provided plenty of clues about what was to come next.
However, it’s Ocean’s decision to open up about his sexuality ahead of the release of this debut album proper that really has people talking. Ocean has spoken openly and honestly about how his first love was a man, and his pre-emptive strike means many will be forensically examining channel ORANGE for clues and ciphers. After all, Ocean’s a rarity in the r’n’b and hip-hop world, where bisexuality and homesexuality are conspicuous by their absence.
Still, that’s just one of channel ORANGE’s elements – and, outside of a few songs, a minor one at that. To listen to this album is to witness an astonishing, unique talent take flight. Whether he’s channelling the tricks he’s learned from the soul conjurers of the past – Stevie Wonder here, Prince there – or drafting a future that has little truck with how current r’n’b fancies operate, Ocean is charting a unique course.
In addition to his audacity and ability to badger and budge r’n’b’s often rigid confines, Ocean’s observational nous is very much to the fore. Bad Religion tells a dark, sultry tale of lust with beautifully pitched sonic pacing, while the detailed, compelling, scene-setting narrative on Super Rich Kids is cinematic in scope and tone.
Ocean’s fondness for sonic shape-shifting is also in evidence, with the artist happy to play weirdbeard tricks when it comes to instrumental and electronic layers and melodies.
It’s a record that takes your breath away – finally, here’s someone with the gumption to take urban music to new and fascinating heights. A brilliant, show-stealing, game-changing affair. frankocean.com
Download tracks:Bad Religion, Super Rich Kids, Sweet Life, Lost