When the whole Odd Future crew started to blow up a few years ago, I was determined to like them. I needed to know why the kids liked ‘em so damn much, and convince myself that my own tastes were still relevant. I listened to Tyler the Creator, he was young, dumb, homophobic, too cocky and his rhymes were awkward. I tried to listen to Earl Sweatshirt, but the shitty sound of his mix tape stuff was too much for me to still give a shit when he finally made a real, studio album.
So by the time Frank Ocean broke, and broke big, I was over the whole Odd Future thing in general. No matter how many times I read someone declare Channel Orange one of the greatest albums of 2012, the Odd Future stank was too much for me to get past. Now, that stank has wafted away, and it’s time to find out why so many music writers declared Channel Orange one of the great albums of 2012.
Opening with the sexed up, falsetto slow jam of Thinkin Bout You is like hearing a 21st century take on Boyz II Men. That’s not a compliment or an insult, just an observation. It might not be the kind of thing I look for in a song, but I can see why others might like it.
The 40 seconds that is the half assed Fertilizer is exactly what I was scared I might find on an Odd Future related album. These dudes seem to have absolutely no attention span. This is a song obviously abandoned before anyone finished writing or producing it. Yet here it is, on the album anyway.
Sweet Life is the title and almost the entirety of the lyrical content of track five, but Ocean’s voice is the kind of hypnotising brilliance, that the words don’t really matter. I’m not a fan of modern R and B in any way, but this the kind of song that makes me wish I did get it.
But listening to Frank Ocean and Channel Orange makes me realise why I don’t like so much modern R and B. It’s so artificial. I have nothing against sampling and electronica in general, but good R and B is so reliant on the genuine heart and soul behind it. And real people playing real instruments still delivers that in a way that samples and DJs never could.
Super Rich Kids has some sampled drums to it, but it also has an actual drummer, and Ocean supplying his own piano / keyboard work. And that’s a good, good thing (or, it’s nothing but samples and I just made a real dick of myself). It also has Earl Sweatshirt collaborating, making me even more perplexed about his success.
But then, Pyramids, for the most part proves my real instruments versus samples wrong. There’s nothing organic about his song, except the vocals of Frank Ocean. And it turns out, they’re enough to do the job and make a really cool, really affecting song. Even at almost ten minutes long, it never lost my (usually fleeting) attention.
With its preaching approach to vocals and church organ backing track, Bad Religion sounds like Prince at his faux-evangelical worst. It also welcomes in a pretty underwhelming finish to Channel Orange. The last few tracks have none of the feeling that make the good parts of Channel Orange so good. They’re more in the half finished realm of Fertilizer, than the impossible to ignore rawness of Sweet Life. Which leads to the most frustrating part of this album. At seventeen tracks and 55 minutes, it’s overlong, bloated, and would have been so easy to trim down to a tight 40 minutes of awesome.