Thinkin Bout You - Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE (2012, Def Jam)
The past couple of years have been very kind to R&B music. Thanks to the likes of How To Dress Well and The Weeknd, R&B is experiencing a spike in popularity not seen since the ‘90s. Frank Ocean’s first mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA also came out last year, and was a big part in this R&B resurgence too. But where nostalgia, ULTRA was an important part of that rising wave, channel ORANGE is something more— it’s the pinnacle of the wave so far.
However, the first thing you’ll read about this album anywhere is not about the album itself. Rather, it will likely concern a small blog post Frank Ocean wrote a few weeks ago, talking about the first time he fell in love. This wouldn’t normally be worthy of topping every review written about the album, but what’s notable here is that it described him falling in love with another man. With that short blog post, he was one of the first big names in urban music to voluntarily and honestly talk about experiencing same-sex attraction, and furthermore was overwhelmingly lauded and embraced for it. So it’s an important note to be sure, but what is a shame is that all the talk is at danger of drowning out channel ORANGE itself. And it’s an album worth worth talking about.
R&B can easily bring to mind an elevator ride in a dusty, out-dated department store. How To Dress Well and The Weekend both moved R&B into the 21st century by incorporating a strong dubstep and bass music influence into their music. However, Ocean takes a different route. It’s definitely not dated, but his music sticks a lot closer to old-school R&B. Every now and then one of his piano lines will echo Stevie Wonder, or a guitar fill will mirror Prince.
No, what makes Frank Ocean’s music so fresh and vital are his lyrics. One minute they’re grippingly honest and candid, but then things will suddenly get much more opaque and intriguing. It’s this back and forth between honesty and shyness, boisterous club bangers and mellow tear jerkers, that makes channel ORANGE a must listen. Even if, like me, you originally find yourself slightly turned off by just how true Ocean sticks to his R&B roots, this is a captivating album that you can’t help but come back to, again and again.