#2 – Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
I went back and forth on the number one and two albums of the year for a couple weeks, because they both mean so much to so many different people for so many different reasons. For many this is the best album of the year and really I can’t blame them. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is brilliant! It’s an album that openly talks about his bisexuality in a way that very few, if any, prominent African-American artists in the scene he is in, with Odd Future, have.
Here are some of the things I said about it when I reviewed it in July:
Ocean, like Prince, refuses to be held down by convention. He is, as Jamie Foxx put it, “breaking ground” on a career that is going to span decades if he keeps it up at this pace. Channel Orange isn’t just good, it’s brilliant. It is epic in its scope and the chances he takes turn out to be breathtaking examples of that brilliance. On “Super Rich Kids,” a song that sounds like the piano beginning to Elton John’s classic “Bennie and the Jets,” he speaks to the drug-addled, supremely-bored, eternally-spoiled rich kids that permeate the tabloidesque landscape we see every day. It could be construed by some as another black artist talking about being rich and flossing his wares. It is far from that.
When you truly listen to what Frank Ocean is saying, especially in this song, he is condemning the idiocy of it all. Not to say that having those things isn’t nice, but knowing that it is never enough is the lesson here. The line in the first verse that draws attention to this is “A million one, a million two, a million more will never do.” When will it be enough for the “zany-gnashing” youth that have been raised by nannies and given the keys to the kingdom or as Ocean says, “Daddy’s Jag”? “Pyramids” a nearly ten minute song with a guitar solo from John Mayer takes us on a journey from Cleopatra’s Egypt to present day where he is dating a girl named Cleopatra who is a stripper. In talking about the correlation he speaks of the wealth that she brings him, though he’s unemployed and the feeling that he is becoming a slave to the wealth like Cleopatra of old was a slave to her wealth and the trust she put in her own immortality until that fatal night with the asp.
One of the starkest things in this album is the aversion to becoming your possessions. You are not what you own, Ocean is saying, but you are what you say. In “Pyramids” he says “your love ain’t free no more” and the cost of that love is growing more and more exorbitant as they grow seemingly more and more distant. Much like those early pyramids, Ocean has built his career up one block at a time and as a result has created one of the top-5 albums of 2012. Putting him in the same class as Prince isn’t easy, but when things like this come around it is necessary to stress how perfect the convergence of former Princes, Pharaohs and unrelenting Oceans becomes.
Frank Ocean is preaching, he’s telling parables on how to or not to live life. He’s sharing life experiences. He is being our conduit into a world that we can only dream about. He is expressing himself in the truest sense possible. He hides nothing, but instead is extremely graphic in expressing his own faults and his own experimentation He doesn’t hide in any closet; he doesn’t seek out solace in his secrets. No, Frank Ocean’s album is open, it’s honest and it is absolutely perfect. It is a brilliant album that will go down with albums like Purple Rain as testaments to a place and time where we all realized true greatness.