Albums You Must Own Number 9 – Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
‘Channel Orange’ by Frank Ocean was undoubtedly last year’s best body of work. Receiving several accolades, despite it being relatively new on best album lists, it is a must have on any album collection.
The album intro ‘Start’ opens us into the physical channel with a television being turned on. The well known, iconic Playsation opening sound is heard, leading the way for the rest of the album…
Then we hear a string opening to ‘Thinkin Bout You’ a song with so many personal meanings to Frank Ocean. Talking about his hurricane experience in New Orleans, with storms and tornadoes taking over his life and future. He also sings about his uncertainty, whether his lover really wants him or not and opens up more troubles in the future. A relaxing and not piercing bass and warm pads make this track eerie and spine chilling. Frank‘s vocals are also on point hitting notes higher than some popular female artists, it is spectacular and shows his vulnerability.
‘Fertiliser’ brings back from his heart and thoughts to the physical world with more samples from a television. Almost like an advert break on the channel. With ends back to the screeching sound, telling us that literally Frank doesn’t know what to watch but methodically he doesn’t know what to do and is lost.
The second full song follows. ‘Sierra Leone’ is a chilled out track that fades out all the instruments excluding the vocals into the background. Then a big symphony overwhelms the music all at once but even that fades out. Everything feels like a blur as the length of the track is so short that it feels like you have just started listening to it when in reality you have finished. Ending on a simple bass riff, you want some more.
A computerised clap hits four times and Frank starts to sing in contrast with a live sound and purposefully unequalised master volume. It adds a sense of imperfect intimacy that he is singing a set to you with a band at his backing. The bat picks up in every chorus with him dismissing about what the ‘Sweet Life’ doesn’t offer and how it can be matched by his life. However he wants the world not just the beach he mutters and wants the sweet life even though he dismisses his chances of getting it.
Another break into reality hits us with a television program sample in ‘Not Just Money’ which gives the message that life isn’t just about money. This is blatantly a message to him that its not just about the money and the sweet life that he desired in the track before. Again it ends with another screeching sound, however this time it is the sound that is played over taboo language, adding some violence and power to his thoughts.
A repeated piano chord played in time with the drum hits but both been played very mid-tempo leaving gaps between each its. It makes me think he is drunk and is just hitting the piano, letting out all his thoughts in his lyrics. This drunk feeling goes well with the fact that he talks about too many bottles of wine. He goes on to talk about how he wants something real, real love and not just the money and fake friends that rich people have. This idea, inspired by the message in ‘Not Just Money’ adds more confusion to his unfortunately hectic life story of the narrator. Earl Sweatshirt doesn’t go to fast either and works well with Ocean on the track giving a good verse. After dealing with the money/love balance the television is back at the end of the track to deal with next problem facing his way.
In ‘Pilot Jones’, Frank calls his lover ice-cold and non compatible with him. He talks about his lovers struggle with drugs and how lets out how scared he is of begin caught up with her drugs and money being wasted on drugs. He then lets out that if she continues to deal drugs, she’ll by flying alone in life, not just living by herself but she’ll always be high on her own if she’s with Frank. Big basses, a reversed synth and his cloudy, pitch perfect vocals makes me wonder if his character is also high when he gives up and the two eventually take off together.
In ‘Crack Rock’ you can hear the take-off in the background and another live drum beat is matched with frequent organ sounds. Consequently, flying off with his drugged up lover has led to them dealing more drugs and becoming drug dependent. His voice is layered and a dark tone is heard in his voice to cleverly emphasise the darkness of the subject. Gun shots are heard and the eland ends abruptly on him singing “crack rock”, almost like he needs another fix.
Then we get to the centrepiece of the whole album. A nine minute masterpiece. ‘Pyramids” starts off with a church-organ inspired synth and paces the way for the monster beat. A rewinded drum beat is used and is something very unique to Ocean and it sets him away from his competition by far. He sings about the hunting of his kidnapped queen and presumably his lover – Cleopatra. An array of basses are added when he repeats Cleopatra and a powerful synth bursts out and refreshes you for the minute. Acting like a siren, the synth warns of danger. Then a regular beat starts and he sings again about the future but this time about the bright future ahead. However as each verse goes on his view on her starts to worsen and cheapen.
The first half finishes on the loud siren synth and the next half starts to blend in over a crossover minute. Then the modern day Cleopatra is explained to us by Ocean as she puts on her lipstick and heels and head over to the Pyramid. The Pyramid being a stripclub or in the artworks vision – the Pyramid made by the male in the sheets. A saddening contrast in how society it self has cheapened over time is effortlessly told by Ocean‘s own storytelling voice that no-one can copy. It leaves you wondering which is a sign of a great piece of work. There’s a guitar solo which slowly ends the song.
‘Lost’ is a father track that’s danceable but hides a secret meaning within. The chorus is brilliant and jumpable however the message isn’t as fun. The singer tells a story of a girl who gets lost dealing drugs and doesn’t know where the next stop is. Little mute riffs and string selections lighten the mood and makes it ironic how dark it can be for one person but light to another.
‘White’ is another interlude but it doesn’t bring us outside of Ocean‘s mind. Instead we are held in the thoughts with R&B bases taking over the reflective mood of the track.
The next track is ‘Monks’ which he opens up about his time with a groupie. Drugs, sex and mosh pits take over his speech but his storytelling power and clever metaphors of monks to the Dalai Lama make it much more interesting.
Organs hit full volume on ‘Bad Religion’. Using the organ is referencing the religion in the title, instead of narrating, we hear a first person dialogue to his taxi driver who has a religion. March sounding drums and soft voices are scattered in the song as reveals he has an identity that’s secret and wants to be loved. This, a sly reference to his sexuality which wasn’t known until weeks before the album dropped.
Andre 3000 joins Frank Ocean on ‘Pink Matter’. It’s a very dreamy, fuzzed track where Frank‘s tone becomes slightly tired. His dreams become vivid over the course of track and then Andre 3000 sets them alight. The rapper gives Ocean his best and is the medium between Ocean‘s dreams and reality. It ends very sharply on a sample pressed one too many times as his dream is harshly broken.
‘Forrest Gump’ is the first open track about his sexuality. Cleverly rephrasing the line ‘run Forrest run’ from the movie into ‘running on my mind’. The track blends in nicely with the album and has elements from all 15 songs heard before the song.
As we reach ‘End’, we go back to the real world again and this time for good. He drops off his girlfriend and returns back to real world himself.
Review by Bally Athwal