x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Debut album hints at promising future for Frank Ocean

Oliver Good listens to the debut solo album by the Odd Future member Frank Ocean, and finds some rich gems among the more offbeat selections.

Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
Def Jam
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The rap collective Odd Future seemed destined to become the genre's next big things when they surfaced a couple of years ago. But the pairing of restless creativity and controversial lyrics that delivered the likes of NWA and Eminem huge mainstream success has yet to do the same for the Los Angeles youngsters - and it's not hard to see why. Despite being one of their most high-profile members, Tyler, The Creator failed to stir up anything more than mild curiosity in his 2011 album, Goblin, due to its absence of hooks and impersonal sound.

So it has fallen to Frank Ocean, the group's most reflective, idiosyncratic member, to deliver their first mainstream hit. The New Orleans-raised singer/producer (who has written for John Legend, Justin Bieber and others) has created a debut that matches warm synthesizers with his equally rich R&B vocals. The gorgeous opener Thinking Bout You starts the record off with incredible promise, as Ocean switches between a fragile falsetto and lower tones with ease.

But the rest of the album tells a slightly different story. Like his Odd Future alumnus Tyler, Ocean seems to treat choruses with contempt. Pilot Jones, Sierra Leone and others have an air of Stevie Wonder about them, but it feels like the 24-year-old never bothered to finish the songs. Much of Channel Orange may be too offbeat for radio play, but not all; Super Rich Kids and Sweet Life both manage to deliver the goods.

While his output may be too diffuse for many listeners, few could fail to notice his vocal and producing talent as anything other than unique.