By Rob Markman
Frank Ocean surprised fans by dropping his Def Jam debut Channel Orange on Monday night (July 9), a week earlier than originally anticipated, and it’s already hit the #1 mark on iTunes.
In a perfect world, it would be fair to separate Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange from his much-talked-about sexuality and simply absorb the musicality of it all, but the singer/songwriter’s debut will always be soaked in speculation.
Last week, on July 4, Ocean posted a passage to his Tumblr, where he revealed that at the age of 19, he fell in love with a man who was unable to reciprocate the feeling. In the post, which was originally intended to occupy the liner notes of Channel Orange, the Odd Future standout made no specific mention of his sexuality, steering clear of words like “gay” or “bisexual.” There is no definitive declaration during the course of the LP, either, which was released on Monday night digitally. But one thing is clear: When Frank Ocean loves, he loves hard.
Opening with a sound bite from the classic ’90s video game “Street Fighter II,” Ocean launches into the romantically doomed “Thinkin Bout You.” Frank sways back and forth over the sweet and calming track, singing tongue-in-cheek to an unavailable lover. “No I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it,” he hums before coyly taking it all back in the next line: “I got a beach house I can sell you in Idaho.”
Rejection is a hard pill to swallow and more often than not our musical protagonist finds himself on the receiving end of heartbreak. Many times Ocean’s tales aren’t gender specific, and when he does use signifiers on tracks like “Bad Religion” and “Forrest Gump,” the sensationalism of it all takes a back seat to a relatable feeling of pain. So when Frank croons “I can never make him love me,” what’s most striking isn’t the word “him,” but rather the emotion that he delivers behind the pronoun.
The 10-minute “Pyramids” is just as hopeless. On it, Frank sings of Cleopatra, a lady of the evening who blurs the line between business and pleasure. By the end of the song, Ocean begins to beg, “Can we make love before you go?” before coming to a stark realization that her “love ain’t free no more.”
There are few guests on Channel Orange: Andre 3000 shows up on “Pink Matter,” John Mayer on “White” and OF’s Earl Sweatshirt gives a Densely packed performance on “Super Rich Kids.” Pharrell Williams lends a production hand on “Sweet Life,” and while the chord progression is signature Neptunes, Skateboard P falls right in line with Ocean’s mood, laying a jazzy sound bed while Frank explores a careless existence with equal parts jealousy and skepticism.
They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but heartbreak clearly has a universal hue. In Frank Ocean’s eyes, it’s all orange.