Skip to main content
A Magazine for

The Manchester edition of Now Then is no longer publishing content. Visit the Sheffield edition.

Channel Orange

Frank Ocean is the new RnB talent who challenges perception, presumption and definition. While his major-label debut channel ORANGE is a party of rhythm and his voice hollers in prayer with stories of love and despair, Frank Ocean has taken RnB apart, put it back together and given us something wild, beautiful and unpredictable. It bears little resemblance to the tepid drippings of love songs and the Guetta-derived, gutless dance numbers which self-proclaimed 'Kings of RnB' Chris Brown and Usher have lazily released of late.

While it's undoubtedly a good thing RnB isn't an acronym for 'Riveting Narrative Blogs' - it's hardly catchy - Ocean has produced an absorbing album of confessional pieces, each a match of his creativity to his emotion. channel ORANGE feels completely the product of the singer and is as intimate as his online writing.

Frank is being painted alongside Prince and Stevie Wonder for the breadth of sounds, styles and feelings he draws upon. Like the two legends, he marries alternating elements to create something fresh. Take 'Super Rich Kids', featuring brilliant Odd Future star Earl Sweatshirt, which sounds like Elton John's 'Benny and the Jets' was left too long out in the sun and the vinyl melted into parts of Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Elsewhere, LA's premier sensitive songwriter/bluesman/cowboy (read: pretender) John Mayer arrives in full axe-man armour and winds 'White' up in the nickel of his strings.

Snatches of songs and styles exist here and there, but ultimately all gets lost in the greater being. Best is the masterpiece 'Pyramids', a shape-shifting floor filler beginning with a beat of scratched decks before growing into a riff the Gap Band would envy, before mellowing and flowing in sincere weirdness. It is supremely engaging and the changes of tempo match that of the narrative, so they seem natural despite their sudden appearances. There are grooves and moments to sing to, occasionally, but rarely does this album feel like it was made for whoever it is who buys number one albums. There's too much here, it runs too deep. Perhaps you could get lost in it on a Saturday night out with friends, but I doubt you'd want to. This isn't a criticism.

Then there is Frank's voice. The album is more than the sum of its parts. His voice is good but not stunning, touching without reaching in and twisting heart strings. It does carry a compelling kind of pain though, and his words are much the better for that; these are stories, not musical boasts. Fame and money exist here but they are shown both as gleaming beacons of success and the warning lights of downfall. All the while electronic noises squeal and hiss and bounce off rock solid bass lines.

There is a fascinating peculiarity to this record. It may not be as focussed or defined as it could be and there are moments that it falls flat, but there is too much to be excited about, because the whole album asks, 'what happens next?'