As tender, and loveable, and loving, and momentarily harrowing if thoroughly heartfelt as Frank Ocean’s TextEdit splurging of soul may be deemed (it subjectively appeared a rather damning indictment of our modern-day modus vivendi that such honest human emotion be conveyed digitally) it’d not only be lamentable were his coming out to coincide with the release ofchannel ORANGE the most widely reviewed outcome of this, the début but moreover deplorable on our behalf were we to fine-tooth through the ins and outs of the young man’s sexuality. For if this element of Ocean’s complex personality construction arguably may seem somewhat transitional (his penchant for voluptuous tropical fruit and wistful, hung-up repetitions of his purloined Cleopatra “working at the pyramid tonight” – a reported reference to a certain and purportedly emancipating sexual position, or conversely a recount of a black Las Vegan prostitute servicing the slobs of the Luxor – on acute beauty Pyramids attest to that) then channel ORANGE is most discernibly, as Jay-Z may profess, the genuine article.
From Thinkin Bout You through Ocean’s candid consideration of Bad Religion, his tracklisting elucidates this sense of flux yet further even in song title alone. The latter is, as with much of the record, indicative of his youth: at just twenty-four, in a world wide web filled with faceless trolls his deficiency in age – if not experience – is here laid bare as he avows: “Only bad religion/ Could have me feelin’ the way I do” as though he were prepped to give our incumbent Pope Benedict XVI an impudent ticking off. However that such jejune gaiety be preceded in a standout couplet by the following condemnation: “It’s a bad religion/ To be in love with someone who can never love you” suggests channel ORANGE may have been completed chronologically; systematically in order that it may, to a degree, document Ocean’s recent soi-disant revelation. Explicit references to teenage years in its early moments only exacerbate this sense of time passing as tracklisting progresses.
Thus regarding such stuff as Tumblr divulgences are made on, the most pertinent question upon which I’ll pontificate only momentarily concerns Ocean’s standing within the heedless misogyny and blasé bigotry of his decidedly predictable Odd Future cronies. If Tyler, The Creator may have voiced – or rather tapped out over Twitter his inarticulate pride in Ocean’s avowal it felt rather disingenuous from someone who wilfully employs the unspeakably vulgar “faggot” epithet (or variants of) purely because it “hits and hurts people.” Okonma can hardly disguise his provocative filth behind the hackneyed “i have gay friends” tagline either. He’s caused an inordinate amount more harm than he has amusement with his vitriolic bile and it perhaps serves to vindicate Ocean’s absence from many an OFWGKTA live show: given their fundamentally contradictory approaches toward individualism, freedom of expression and human right, seeing eye to eye can only be problematic – particularly for Ocean, making his public declaration perhaps all the more difficult – although needless to say a record as rich and complex aschannel ORANGE neither writes nor records itself. Ample time must’ve been afforded what will undoubtedly be heralded a game-changer for ages to come, and neither does it broadcast itself nor such hyperbole. That’s why we’re here to profusely bleep its multifarious praises from the pinnacles of the most vertiginous proverbial Pyramids.
As previously intimated, with regard to the cult of Christopher Breaux as celebrity it’s all too easy to negate or neglect his youth: the lustful sensualities that course almost coitally throughout, the demented cries of “Pleasure!” on Pink Matter and the Playstation ping in his Start intro all exhibit the actuality that Ocean is but a twenteen. And despite his status – not only is his now a household name but you suspect half of these households already own a copy of this LP – that he regards himself, or maybe his Ocean persona (the differentiation between artist and individual ought at least go acknowledged) as someone “spending too much time alone” endears. That he takes the mature high ground and condemns: “We’re behaving like teenagers” seems to suggest he may feel as though he has gone on to outgrow his roguish cohorts both personally and indeed artistically. Moreover on the very same song – Sierra Leone – he, or rather a voice stylistically analogous to Tyler’s schizophrenic gurgles on Goblin affirms: “I grew up in Sierra Leone” thus further differentiating him or this carefully constructed persona from Okonma and his self-professed omnipotence, they that inhabit “Denver” and the Super Rich Kids later afforded an entire five minutes of incriminating critique.
However it’s the former track that, as questionably an obtuse metaphor for this unspecified female and the feminine nether regions with which she is endowed, really sets the mind ablaze in a burst of inspiration as titian as the album’s sleeve. Littered with references to Ocean’s adored petit Prince and Lennon’s Good Night lullaby, it’s an educated smooth telling of a couple who, having “ran outta Trojans” and whilst tying down dead-end jobs, are about to usher a daughter into the world. It’s a complex and positively compelling result, and the sort you’d sooner expect of Oasis than you would of any Odd Futurite.
Although this ain’t no throwaway rap record. No, nor is this any old record at all. As much as I wanted to affront the universal acclaim and applause it has amounted thus far with some supposedly levelheaded counter, such is its intricacy and darn irresistible allure that it can’t be anything but extolled. This is the outcast becoming accepted (see guest spots from Pharrell on production and programming, and André 3000 who puts in some almost unfeasibly proficient guitar twiddle); the underdog triumphing in the adversity that is our dogmatically prejudiced reality. Incontrovertibly winning, he’s singing quite seraphically as he does so.
For the most part, musically, channel ORANGE matches Ocean’s effortless vocal supremacy too: the dusty bombast to Sweet Life that’s equal parts Tamla Motown and M People, the soulful skulk of Crack Rock and the R’n'Berserk prog tendencies of the monumental Pyramids aforementioned all aid in establishing a quite idiosyncratic take on contemporary hip hop. Of course carving out an entirely untarnished niche somewhere within said categorical pigeonhole may perhaps never be done again – not even with Breaux’ chiselled cheekbones – but these be some fairly nifty lines atop which Ocean’s heuristic stanzas may be scrawled. They come to resemble contemporary hieroglyphics almost, to be preserved for as long as the Compact Disc perseveres.
Sure, the estival lilt to Lost would effervesce pastiche were we not so “lost in the thrill of it all” and the Boyz II Men by way of Prince Rogers Nelson’sBatman soundtracking that is Pilot Jones is considerably more turbulent when set against the Roots-y work on show elsewhere. But then the organs become all-pervasive, and the static of channel ORANGE inundated with their warbling trill. Ocean here gets the bit between his teeth as if he were contemptible clergyman with something rather more sordid in his grasp: he’s got it in for religion and its inability to adapt with the transpiring of time; its silent disapproval of his “unrequited love”. This ecclesiastical backdrop makes for a fascinatingly juxtapositional denouement on Forrest Gump as it contrasts with Ocean’s acceptance of his own sexuality. “Forrest Gump you run my mind boy/ Running on my mind boy” he vulnerably professes as beyond the imagery of a suited and heavily sweated Tom Hanks reclines a distressful spurn. Ocean can no longer conceal his smouldering infatuation, no matter how eternal any infernal punishment provoked may prove. It’s clear to see and hear what it means – besides what it patently means to him, and unlike the Ocean-featuring Watch The Throne, it’s goddamn provocative.
Ocean has here become a boy worth unwaveringly rejoicing in, and that’s said having staunchly avowed to agnosticism prior to the pressing of play. As such although an HD TV may be “too real” for him at the minute, you can’t help but pray that bit of 2k12 tech, along with an enriched knowledge of bottles of wine he can’t as yet pronounce may surely be promised the prodigally talented Wolf fled from the ignorance of the OF pack. And whilst a patina of perspiration may coat his carved features upon sleeve note photo, he’s nothing to sweat about nor fret over now: his first time is done and dusted. Appositely, there’s a sort of virginal innocence to many a channel ORANGEmissive.
The issue bubbling under the surface however reverts to Ocean’s sexuality andthat declaration. For it should bear no relevance neither on he, nor we, nor the records he feels he can and can’t out, nor even our impression of. Only once we learn to abstain from scrutinising each and every celebrity, and desist from sensationalising this so-called coming out – an inexpressibly repugnant and quasi-primordial term of heterosexual primacy – can we even vaingloriously exclaim to have achieved some form of equality. Until then? Tune into this one, I’d suggest. For Frank Ocean is boulevards ahead of his every contemporary. “Don’t no one disturb nirvana” he pleads with a newfound empowerment, and please: don’t no one disturb a luminary enlightening.