Guest Review: Nathan Roberts on Frank Ocean
A Meditation on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE
by Nathan Roberts
By choosing to open his album with the reassuring sound of an iPhone text alert and the original Playstation startup, Frank Ocean sets us at ease. He could have stormed in, as is wont-to-do amongst the stars of contemporary R&B, with his incredible voice and nuanced sound, but we are effortlessly ushered in before the orchestral grandeur of “Thinkin Bout You” kicks in.
|Ocean sometimes wears eyewear|
For a song that has been floating around online for the last year or so, “Thinkin Bout You” sums up the timeless nature of this album, it’s a song that feels as powerful on this listen as it did the first and greater still with the slight rework his major label debut has afforded to provide. Yet the music, though glamorous, never seems overstated or crass; it is full of beauty.
Despite the hyperbole that has surrounded his relatively sudden rise to fame, it would be too much to expect the pinnacle of recorded music fromchannel ORANGE, especially being his first album proper. Yet Ocean has genuinely created something exemplary of his time and place. I adore this album and so should you, regardless of its imperfections.
Throughout the album, the strongest lyrical themes deal starkly with his own life and are empathetically passionate; that love and life, strictly an individual's own experience, are so intrinsic, honest and open on this album is incredible; he has fully shared his experience with us.
Though undoubtedly possessing a voice that is unarguably timeless and soulful, hell, people think he is this generation’s Stevie Wonder, I can’t help but feel that he has also consciously grounded his music to the now; or, more probable, as a reflection of this period of his life, this time. It's personal.
And in these times of all-consuming social media, where reality and verisimilitude collide, it seems all the more important that a figurehead who is, or at least appears to be, as genuine as Frank Ocean stands ahead of the pack. He is a vocal presence on tumblr and twitter; for the cyber generation, he is one of us.
channel ORANGE stands as one of the biggest moments for the music industry this year, without shadow of a doubt. How else can it be summed up? Storming to number 2 in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, despite only being available via iTunes, is a massive achievement.
I’d still argue that the moment Radio 1 started playing "Pyramids" in its unashamedly, and brilliantly, long nine minute and fifty six second version during daytime radio, due to listener demand, was the first sign of Frank Ocean’s, now bright, shining star. And if that apathetic outlet can bow down to this masterpiece, I don’t use the term lightly, of progressive R&B, why not you?
Nathan Roberts is currently studying English Literature & Creative Writing at Kingston University. He also has a prolific music blog and scouts for Columbia Records.