It’s 1:00AM and I’m thinking about the love of my life. Only problem is I’m not the love of his. Ingeniously, Frank Ocean has provided mood music for my pining. If someone decided to create a soundtrack centered on Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” line, “tell me who I have to be to get some reciprocity” it would sound exactly like Channel ORANGE; an ode to unrequited love. But it isn’t only that. Ocean belts in a language directed at the heart that may disorient the mind at first ponder.
By now you’ve read several reviews of this project and most of them agree that it’s brilliant. It’s unequivocally good. It’s damn good and almost too good to break down because Ocean gives a vocal performance and lyrical demonstration of raw honest emotion that is hard to come by nowadays. Here goes trying to critique someone’s soul…
From Ocean’s character selection, “Thinkin Bout You” swirls in; pinpointing the whirlwind of feelings dusted up when that someone enters your life. When there’s nothing you can do to keep them off of your mind, wondering if they‘re doing the same, yet not keeping it real with yourself. When you know that for you it is the pinnacle, unprecedented, and you’re willing to wait out the complications, complexities and confusion for it all to become certain and magically simplify itself. Certainly, his decision to use this song he initially penned and referenced for Bridget Kelly as the album opener was dead on. It is clear when you feel the anguish in his falsetto.
It’s fitting that the color orange is associated with preventing self-injury (think orange “safety vests”). Ocean “channels” through this route or band of frequencies forging clarity on the ways we hurt ourselves in pursuit of happiness, and in pursuit of others. Who hasn’t accepted a lover’s bullshit as “Fertilizer”? Ultimately it nourishes the angst and promotes a range of sentiments. For one, “Sierra Leone” depicts the youthful and carefree and like the diamond-mining Republic of the same name, how it feels to be “glistening, shimmerin’ underneath the sunlight.” That diamond in the rough could be conception after running out of Trojans and bringing another cryin’ babe into the world, because sometimes love does that as well.
Lonny Breaux’s songwriting taps into your core and exposes those places you’d prefer to keep hidden. He’s keen on the fact that the heart wants what it wants and our interpretations lean toward the comforting. Aptly on “Sweet Life” he sings “my TV ain’t HD, that’s too real,” knowing we can’t always handle that high a resolution. There’s also commentary on how we relate to riches via the interlude “Not Just Money,” where a woman explains it can be “the difference between having a home and living on the streets.” On the other side of the spectrum Earl Sweatshirt makes a no doubt deliberate apathetic appearance on “Super Rich Kids” that seems to stick out a proverbial tongue at the wealthy. Listing points of excess and ending with “I’m searching for a real love” reminds us of that rarity money can not buy. Staying on the subject of vices Ocean struggles to “keep a grown woman sober” on “Pilot Jones” and further explores addiction, destruction, corruption and denial within the tripping snares and bass of “Crack Rock.”
Perhaps the most epic composition of the project is the almost ten minute long “Pyramids” which shuttles us to times before Christ and back to the present, juxtaposing the luxe and the dated; “top floor motel suite twisting my cigars, floor model TVs with the VCR.” He tells the story of a queen dethroned; self-slaughtered, kidnapped and defiled. A track like “Pyramids” at the midpoint of the album jolts us to the reality it’s not just the writing keeping us captivated. In this middle section we’re treated to evanescent gems like John Mayer’s guitar riffs on “White.” It’s hard to resist dancing and performing your best air drumming during “Monks.” Ocean’s talk of enlightenment, India and “clean chakra, good karma” signify it’s no coincidence an Orange hue represents Swadhisthana, of which key issues are relationships, violence, addictions and pleasure, governing reproduction, creativity, joy and enthusiasm.
Is it the sermon-like speech, or the organ that conjures up a certain purple one’s intro to “Lets Go Crazy” on “Bad Religion”? Still, I’ll spare the comparisons, albeit flattering. This production remains somber and bare and holy, as we picture Ocean in a confession booth seeking atonement. A rousing assist by Andre 3000 on “Pink Matter;” the only other feature on the album, leaves us in suspense as Benjamin often does. (It also leaves us wondering if Ocean is referring to the pink, amorphous blob Majin Buu from Dragon Ball Z.) “Forrest Gump” and “End” close things out with Frank again unable to get someone out of his mind. There’s talk of “boulder heavy lies,” a car door opens, someone exits and walks into a building. We hear the muted music back in the car, as someone sits waiting although the door has closed. Just like unrequited love.
Channel ORANGE operates much like that elusive lover, bringing you to the throes of ecstasy, then taking it abruptly away – a source of great, fleeting pleasure and pain. And you keep running back. By the last song you’re already craving the first; Malay, Om’Mas Keith, Pharrell Williams and Ocean himself created a soundscape you can loop, experiencing something authentic each go round. And you’ll need to, to discover the intricacies of Ocean’s writing. For those folks wondering where R&B went, it’s right here. For genuine emotion-evoking music, equal parts ambient programming and musicianship, complex, creative lyrics, and SOUL, you need only turn the channel.
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