Laid back and beautiful, Frank Ocean’s album Channel Orange has a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to it. Every song has a pure beat blanketed in a rounded ‘70’s R&B sound that Ocean ties together with his smooth, emotional voice. Even after listening to this 17 track album on repeat for hours, the lyrics of each song capture your attention and until the music fades out.
The album tells a story while each track focuses on a character. Whether it is Ocean himself, his love, an anonymous young woman, a fictional teenager, a depressed drug dealer, or a faraway friend. However, to create an album so intensely based on emotions and people, there must be filler songs to keep the reader from becoming overwhelmed; like intermissions between Acts in a play. These are all a maximum of one minute long and, although they are not full tracks on their own, they each tell a brief tale.
The purpose of the songs “Start” and “End,” the first and last tracks on the album, is to set a mood. “Fertilizer,” and “White [ft. John Mayer]” all fill in the gaps between more prominent pieces to make the record feel more personal and whole.
The two most popular songs on the album are “Super Rich Kids” and “Thinkin Bout You.” The latter is best known by the meme “a potato flew around my room” and is backed by keyboard and guitar sounds that give it an acoustic feel. The song “Super Rich Kids,” is recognized for its message and praised by critics for its accuracy. The song depicts the difficulties that come with being raised rich. It describes the use of alcohol and drugs at a very young age, and surprises listeners by ending with “the market’s down like sixty stories/ and some don’t end the way they should/ my silver spoon has fed me good/ a million one a million cash/ close my eyes and feel the crash.” Then, after the tragic death of the main character, Ocean continues to emotionally shock the reader by singing the chorus over one last time in an almost mocking way.
There are also the “plot songs,” songs that focus more on lyrics and descriptions than music. This includes the tracks “Crack Rock” and “Monks,” both of which are played over bass, guitar, and keyboard. Some of these songs are not as repetitive as others, for example, “Monks” does not have a chorus; instead it describes women, adventures, and having a good time. The two resemble poems in how they are written, and would be just as beautiful without background music. All of these give off a cool vibe and keep you focused on their twisted lyrics and double meanings.
The most vocally impressive and musically beautiful tracks are “Pyramids,” “Lost,” and “Bad Religion.” Each of these songs connect so well to the listener that they can almost feel Ocean’s pain. “Lost,” for example, has this incredibly nostalgic vibe to it, and Ocean’s voice pulls you through the story with him as if you’re there next to him on his train ride to nowhere. In “Bad Religion” you can hear the purity of the sadness in his voice, and his chill-inducing runs drag you along on a journey of unrequited love. Then of course, “Pyramids,” the longest song on the album, is a whopping nine minutes long that keep you hooked on the music every second from the start to the end.
Four years, 13 big awards and a Grammy later, Channel Orange is still a contemporary R&B standard. It was Frank Ocean’s first studio album and, years later, is still praised as a musical masterpiece. His second record, blond (also recognized as Boys Don’t Cry), was released only this summer, and although the sound is less acoustic, those who enjoyed Ocean’s vocals on Channel Orange or either of his two mixtapes Nostalgia ,Ultra or The Lonny Breaux Collection will not be disappointed by his new focus. Channel Orange is a lyrical masterpiece, and a true display of R&B culture without the muted hip hop and pop tones the genre has taken on in recent years. It is an album to be remembered.