Frank Ocean: channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean: channel ORANGEI have no business reviewing Frank Ocean.

R&B is not a coverage area for I can no more describe the mertis (or demerits) of Kanye West, Cody ChesnuTT or Chris Brown than a writer from Vibe can weigh in on the Utada Hikaru vs. Hamasaki Ayumi debate.

But somehow Frank Ocean ended up on my year-end favorite list.

Here’s what I know.

Frank Ocean posted a notice on Tumblr describing the first person he fell in love with was a man. Gay bloggers picked up on the news. I read about Ocean’s coming out on Towleroad. I listened to channel ORANGE. I liked it. I bought it.

Was this purchase a vote for equality, a gesture of solidarity? Yes, partly.

I would also like to think it was vote of confidence for Ocean’s understated style. His tracks have a lot of room to breathe, and his voice isn’t a flashy display of TV competition histrionics.

“Pilot Jones,” for example, is little more than a beat, a smattering of effects and Ocean’s falsetto. He nearly crosses into the minimalist territory of James Blake on this track. “Sweet Life” starts with a piano and a jumpy bass, slowly adding a beat and eventually horns.

Even when Ocean goes for the dramatic, it’s never overhanded. The 10-minute epic “Pyramids” goes balls out on the first half but draws in for the second.

The crux of the album is “Bad Religion”, an astute observation of unrequited love: “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion.” It’s hard not to hear shades of “Purple Rain” in the organ intro, but Ocean’s raw delivery makes the track his own. “Bad Religion” is also a familiar refrain for anyone in love with the unattainable, especially when it’s nature conspiring with societal bullshit to create the barrier.

Since making his announcement, Ocean hasn’t made a definitive statement about his orientation. I hope he doesn’t. The political baggage would take away from the emotion of a track like “Bad Religion.” It’s nice to have that subtext, but it needn’t define the man nor his music.