Frank Ocean, "Channel Orange," Def Jam
In this cynical world, Frank Ocean's timing in revealing his sexuality seems a bit curious: The Tumblr-page announcement that shook the urban music world came less than two weeks before the release of his sophomore album, "Channel Orange," bringing him an avalanche of publicity and making him the most celebrated figure in music at the moment.
It would all seem a bit manufactured — if we were talking about a lesser artist. But the 24-year-old Ocean — who already had music fans in the know enraptured by his self-released "nostalgia, ULTRA" last year — is so genuine in his artistry that it's unthinkable that anything else in his mind could be contrived. And on the wonderful "Channel Orange," Ocean continues to demonstrate that he's among the truest, brightest new talents to come on the scene in a while.
In many ways, "Channel Orange" picks up where "nostalgia, ULTRA" left off: It continues on a similar musical path, filled with luscious, pillowy slow grooves ("Thinkin Bout You," ''Pilot Jones"), whirring electro beats ("Pyramids") and retro-soul ("Sweet Life"). But "Channel Orange" digs deeper than just intriguing melodies and beats: Ocean, who co-wrote most of the album with the likes of Pharrell Williams, James Ho and others, gets political on "Crack Rock" and deeply personal on "Bad Religion," where he's tormented by male lover who doesn't return the affection, and cries: "If it brings me to my knees, it's a bad religion."
Of course, it's Ocean's same-sex declaration that has garnered him so much attention over the last two weeks. But anyone expecting "Channel Orange" to be some kind of gay pride statement may be disappointed: On most of the songs he's pining for a woman, and the most overt same-sex love song, "Forrest Gump," may be social commentary, but it comes across as just a sweet, whimsical love song — which, at its heart, it is.
As headline-grabbing as Ocean's recent announcement turned out to be, the enduring story remains his talent, which is showcased brilliantly on "Channel Orange."
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The most luxurious slow jam of the year, thus far, is the ever-dreamy "Thinkin Bout You," as Ocean's seductive falsetto gets the heart pacing.