★ ★ ★ ★
Many are going to listen to Channel Orange because of Frank Ocean's letter revealing that his first love was a man. This was an important revelation, but you can get a better idea of what Ocean is all about from a short skit on his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, called "Bitches Talkin." Here, the titular "bitches" beg him to change the music he's listening to in his car: Radiohead's "Optimistic." "What's a Radiohead?" they say, asking him to put on Jodeci. "All you bitches want is Jodeci. What the fuck?" Frank says, and clicks the tape off.
So Frank Ocean was not put on this earth to simply be an R&B singer. His songs are complex and sometimes just strange. "Forrest Gump" is sung from the viewpoint of a cheerleader at the big game when Forrest runs clear out of the stadium. But there's always that voice, as pure as Stevie Wonder's, that brings the listener back around. "Thinking About You" is so gorgeously sung that you hardly notice he's performing multiple roles. On "Sweet Life" he sings "Why see the world when you got the beach?" but it's unclear if he's deriding the sweet life or celebrating it—the real message seems to be "just you try to get this amazing hook I'm singing out of your head."
Yet for all its soulfulness and ambition, Channel Orange isn't really a fun album. Only the 10-minute epic "Pyramids" gets close to a dance club banger, but only briefly, settling into a long trans-historical tale, told over gauzy music that could almost pass for Beach House. But the album lives up to its hype by being so absolutely captivating, and while it isn't a game changer album like, say, Kid A, you can tell that's what Frank Ocean was aiming for.
Worth a Listen: "Sweet Life," "Thinking About You," "Lost"