Music Review: Frank Ocean, “Channel Orange”
Last month, when Frank Ocean posted a December 2011 letter in which he intelligently and poetically discussed his bisexuality, the revelation touched off the expected dialogue on homophobia in the R&B and hip-hop communities and how such an announcement from a respected singer-songwriter could effect change and tolerance. But his coming-out also had a dramatic consequence on how people will hear his official solo debut, “Channel Orange.” This does not necessarily mean fans will be constantly listening for pronouns on Ocean’s ballads. Instead, the announcement contextualized his songwriting milieu, giving him a surprising, been-everywhere authority in his story-songs about overprivileged young people and messed-up sunny California. It freed Ocean from having to deny a part of his life, but it also freed his music.
Ocean makes passing reference to his sexuality during the slow groove of “Thinkin’ About You” and more blatantly on the stately, Prince-like ballad “Bad Religion,” but what is most striking about these songs is how he unshackles R&B from its gender specificity — man, woman, gay or straight, you get what he is saying. It also helps that when he sings that killer chorus, “Do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout forever,” he deploys a falsetto that would make Maxwell or D’Angelo envious.
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