5/5 Last year Frank Ocean gave away mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra free online, and sparked a bush fire of fan praise in the blogosphere. The member of LA hip-hop collective Odd Future may have upset his record company, but the mixtape thrilled everybody else who heard it. Here were lush, oddly timeless pop hooks soldered to R&B beats in songs that expressed a ruminative, emotional vulnerability that’s rare in the genre.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that excitement runs high ahead of Ocean’s official debut, but this album is every bit as boldly conceived, brilliantly executed and irrefutably fresh as the hype has it. The songs are vintage in feel (Michael Jackson, Prince, Shuggie Otis and Stevie Wonder are touchstones), the production so confident that Kanye, Jay-Z and Flying Lotus are surely having a ‘wtf?’ moment.
The funk-pop nous dripping from ‘Lost’ stuns, as does the darkly rueful ‘Super Rich Kids’ and the sumptuous ‘Bad Religion’, where his alluringly thick and sweet voice suggests a tormented seraph. In between are blasts of TV channel-hopping and white noise. If that’s a metaphor for our limited attention span, Ocean need not worry. Tuning out his dazzling Channel Orange is not an option. Sharon O’Connell