Frank Ocean doesn’t like to be called an R&B artist. In a 2011 interview with the Quietus, in regards to being pigeonholed as R&B, Frank Ocean stated: “The second one (R&B artist) is ‘that’s what you do, that’s what you are’, and that’s a little unfair, to me, because I don’t just do that. So I like singer/songwriter because it allows me to move a little bit more freely.”
This is why calling Ocean’s new album, Channel Orange, simply a great R&B album, is not only wrong but also an injustice. Frank Ocean is a storyteller weaving anecdotes of unrequited love, judgments from his sexuality, lost billet douxes, and the superficiality of fame.
In Channel Orange, he paints a story of his own surreal world that is mixed with a tangle of ambiguities. However, it’s his story and is not to be understood but only to be listened and felt. The incantatory quality of his voice and introspective thoughts make it seem inclusive almost as if the listener is on the outside peering into Ocean’s elusive soundscape.
What is more impressive is how he channels different voices and timbres to enact different characters that exist in Ocean’s story. “Pyramids,” his most twisted masterpiece, he becomes an unemployed addict to a stripper that results in a cancerous relationship. “Super Rich Kids,” allows him to channel the inner rich kid that is disconcerted between the hedonistic riches of fame but the underlying want for “real love.” In “Pilot Jones,” Ocean plays the addict and the dealer as their mutual dependency for each other cause them to confuse the dichotomy between friendship and love.
Yet the most intimate and revealing parts to Ocean’s madness is “Bad Religion”, “Thinkin Bout You” (below), and “Forrest Gump.” In these songs, he no longer wears a mask to portray different caricatures in his dark fantasy. He tears off the mask to reveal his personal experience of unrequited love for his first love. Sad and disillusioned romances are at the forefront of the songs- each that are plagued with the juxtaposing desires of lust and true love.
It’s no wonder why Frank Ocean didn’t want his front name on the cover of his own album, and credited Everest, his Bernese mountain dog, as the executive producer. He wants anonymity and to let the work speak for itself. And however vulnerable, witty, or charming Ocean is in Channel Orange, the album is his story that is not meant for himself, but for you.
Listen to Thinkin’ About you:
Review by Alejandra Ramirez