|First posted 9/24/2020; updated 12/1/2020.|
Released: July 10, 2012
Peak: 2 US, 11 RB, 2 UK, 3 CN, 9 AU
Sales (in millions): 0.69 US, 0.3 UK, 1.16 world (includes US and UK)
Song Title [time] (date of single release, chart peaks) Click for codes to singles charts.
Total Running Time: 62:18
4.243 out of 5.00 (average of 14 ratings)
Awards: (Click on award to learn more).
About the Album:
Frank Ocean released his debut, the mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra in 2011. Despite a lack of conventional promotion, it developed a cult following and critical acclaim and there were even plans for Def Jam to officially release it. That never materialized, but singles for “Novacane” and “Swim Good” emerged. The former was a top 20 hit on the R&B chart and found its way onto the Billboard Hot 100.
It all set up big expectations for Ocean’s official debut, Channel Orange. The album didn’t disappoint: it was nominated for an Album of the Year Grammy and won for Best Urban Contemporary Album. It was named Album of the Year by Acclaimed Music, Spin magazine, and Dave’s Music Database.
Ocean wrote songs for the album with producer and songwriter Malay, who’d also worked on Ultra, Nostalgia, and he attracted Pharrell Williams as one of the album’s producers. He also attracted Tyler, the Creator; André 3000, John Mayer, and Earl Sweatshirt into guesting on the album.
While much was made before and during the album’s release about Ocean’s possible homosexuality or bisexuality, the real story was the music itself. Ocean “sings with casually expressive vocals, free-form flow, conversational crooning, and alternating falsetto, and tenor registers.” WK The album was a mix of neo-soul, alternative R&B, electro-funk, jazz-funk, and psychedelia. While working in the studio, Ocean played Marvin Gaye, Jim Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Sly & the Family Stone, and Stevie Wonder for inspiration. WK Critics picked up on the influences. New York Times Magazine noted “chord changes straight out of Wonder’s Innervisions [and] airy vamps that nod to Gaye’s Here, My Dear.” WK The Washington Post’s Chris Richards also noted links to Gaye and Wonder, as well as modern R&B artists D’Angelo, Maxwell, and Erykah Badu. WK
“Start” and “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”
The album kicks off with Start, a forty-five second “snippet of ambient sounds, bits of silence and flickers of noise, including a PlayStation booting up.” WK This segues into Thinkin’ ‘Bout You.” AMG, a “low-key torch song” WK with a “longing falsetto shuffle.” AMG The song features “soothing synth cycles, sparse keybards, muffled electronic percussion, and lyrics addressing a lover with white lies.” WK He originally wrote it for singer Bridget Kelly, but it became the first single for Channel Orange. It was a top-40 pop hit and reached the top 10 on the R&B chart. WK
“Fertilizer” and “Sierra Leone”
This is based on James Fauntleroy’s 2010 song of the same name. It is repurposed here “as an AM radio jingle and interlude about bullshit.” WK It flows in to Sierra Leone, which “incorporates chillwave and quiet storm styles with chime sounds, lo-fi beats, and polyphony similar to Prince’s 1985 song ‘Paisley Park.’” WK “Ocean’s singing exhibits quickly descending chord succession and is overdubbed against his spoken vocals.” WK The narrator recounts teenage lust for a girl, comparing their relationship to changes in the fortunes of Sierra Leone regarding diamonds and civil war. WK “Its lyrics address sex, conception, early parenthood, and childhood dreams.” WK
“Sweet Life,” “Not Just Money,” and “Super Rich Kids”
“The loose and bright Sweet Life” AMG and Super Rich Kids both explore decadence. They are linked by Not Just Money, “a spoken interlude with a woman discussing the importance of money on happiness.” WK “Super Rich Kids” “addresses young, wealthy characters’…fears of the financial crisis with dry humor” WK and references “the thumping piano line of Elton John’s 1973 song ‘Bennie and the Jets.’” WK
“The snapping/swooning Pilot Jones” AMG “contains hazy electronic blips, impressionistic textures, experimental beat patterns, retracted sound effects, and vocal improvisation expressing the narrator’s ‘high.’” WK explores “an emotional dependency between drug addicts who confuse friendship with sexual love in their support of each other.” WK
“Crack Rock” and “Lost”
Ocean explores the affects of drug addiction on a couple of songs. “The new wave-style Lost is about a perplexed addict who hopes for a better life for him and his drug-cooked girlfriend.” WK Crack Rock “has fleeting multi-tracked harmonies, a non-sequitur chorus, and Ocean’s occasionally fractured breathiness conveying an addict’s voice.” WK In this “rumbling drug dependency tale,” AMG Ocean depicts an addict who “likens love to the highs and lows of drug use.” WK They lyrics address “corruption, broken homes, gun violence, and government indifference to rising crack-related deaths. The song was inspired by stories he heard while sitting in on Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups mentored by his grandfather. WK
This is “the song with the widest and most creative scope,” AMG using Biblical imagery and shifting from ancient Egypt to a strip club as Ocean “contrasts the legendary fall of Cleopatra with the circumstances of a latter-day working girl” who works at a club called, naturally, Pyramid. WK It has been cited as the album’s centerpiece. WK PopMatters’ Brice Ezell wrote that it denotes “the vital midpoint of the overarching narrative” WK where “the wittier tone of the record’s front half gives way to an emotionally dense second half.” WK
“Monks” and “Bad Religion”
These songs both explore religion and its relationship with sex. “The relatively exuberant Monks” AMG is a funk rock song “about finding nirvana.” WK It deals with “casual sex and devout religion in a narrative that shifts from an exciting concert to a metaphorical jungle.” WK
Bad Religion returns to the theme of unrequited love explored in “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You.” This “phenomenal brokenhearted ballad consisting of organ, piano, strings, and handclaps.” AMG is “the most personal song” AMG on the album. The song follows the confessions to a taxi driver about a secret, intimate relationship. Music journalist Aleixs Petridis said it deals with “the battle between religion and lust that’s been at the heart of soul music since it ceded from gospel.” WK
This “bluesy lament with themes of sex and betrayal” WK includes lyrics which ”allude to philosophical conunundrums, extraterrestrial life, Japanese manga comics, and cotton candy” WK as the “narrator struggles between pleasure and universal meaning.” WK
This is another exploration of unrequited love, this time with “a bright, Motown-inspired chorus, a simple rhythmic cadence, gently strummed guitar, wistful vocals, and a perkily whistled coda.” WK The “playful” WK song “likens the titular film character to an adolescent crush, with homoerotic, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and allusions to scenes in the film.” WK
This skit “depicts and exchange between Ocean and a woman as they make love in the backseat of a car.” WK After the woman quotes the line, “You’re special. I wish you could see what I see” from the 2006 film ATL, Ocean leaves, “walks home in the rain, and sets his keys down with a sigh.” WK
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