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Frank Ocean: Channel Orange
Odd Future crooner exits closet, delivers r&b masterclass
Ed Power, 04 Sep 2012
Sometime Odd Future collaborator Frank Ocean’s full-length debut has been overshadowed by an extraordinary Tumblr posting, in which he reveals his first serious lover was a man. With homophobia still a live-rail issue in urban music, and Odd Future’s lyrics often gratuitiously anti-gay, Ocean’s exiting the closet can only be regarded as a paradigm shifter (along with Kanye West and Jay-Z, his bandmates have issued a statement of support).
It would be a shame, however, if excitement over his orientation obscured what is a strange and sad R&B tour de force, an ideas-bursting project that seems to simultaneously inhabit an interstellar-pop far future and a richly re-imagined alternate seventies. With its hazy, languid production and evocative swells of horn and brass, Channel Orange resides in an entirely self-created headspace: though there are tinges of Kanye on ‘Sierra Leone’, intimations of Stevie Wonder on the lush ‘Forrest Gump’ and a nod towards OutKast on the provocative ‘Rich Kids’, the weightless, blissed-out ambiance feels like nothing you’ve heard before.
Throughout, Ocean, a New Orleans native who fled to Los Angeles in the aftermath of Katrina, is an enigmatic half-presence, haunted and haunting as he drifts in and out of songs, delivering lines like “You don’t know how little you matter until you’re all alone in the middle of Arkansas with a little rock left in that glass dick” (you hope it’s a drugs reference) in a syrupy croon that never quite slips into R. Kelly melodrama. Ocean, who has a sideline writing for Justin Bieber, wouldn’t be appalled at the comparison you sense. The singer’s decision to come out as bisexual meant this was always going to be an important record. Divorced of context, however, it would be no less stunning.