I first discovered Frank Ocean through his 2011 free online mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” which had some original R&B tracks and others that were sampled music put to original lyrics. If you follow music news then you might remember the mixtape’s problems relating to his remake of “Hotel California” (bless those ever-litigious Eagles). I wasn’t sure what he’d be capable of with his own material but have found that I’m pleasantly surprised with the final album, “Channel Orange.”
In terms of song styles and themes it’s a bit all over the park but because of the quality of each track, the album works it out. Lyrically he blends modern playboy swagger talk with sweetly naïve introspective emo poetry. These songs are chock full of hooks that you’ll be singing under your breath all day long, or, if you’re like some of the teens in our Computer Lab, you’ll proudly sing them loudly and off-key.
There are a few throw-aways that you might skip on subsequent listens but I think even these have their moments. At his best he channels the funky “Songs in the Key of Life” Stevie Wonder hooks and vocals, the falsetto soul bedroom-voice of D’Angelo, and the brash modern arrogance of big R&B artists tempered with indie-emo sensibilities.
Standout tracks are the ballad “Thinking Bout You”, fun ’70s soul/funk throwback “Sweet Life”, the summer-mellow melody and rapping on “Super Rich Kids”, and epic prog-funk “Pyramids.” I can also see a lot of broken-hearted teens and twenty-somethings singing “Bad Religion” to themselves in the dark thinking about their own unrequited love.
So far Channel Orange is my favorite album of the year, even after a solid month of it on repeat.