Frank Ocean

(Copyright © 2010-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Channel Orange (2012) , 7/10
Blonde (2016), 5/10

Frank Ocean, a member of Los Angeles' hip-hop collective Odd Future, penned the intimate cosmic soul music of the mixtape Nostalgia Ultra (2011), bordering on Nick Drake's manic depression.

His grand songwriting ambitions permeated Channel Orange (Def Jam, 2012), notably the ten-minute Pyramids. It was the most hyped album of the year, but ultimately Ocean was only capable of pop-soul ballads in a traditional format (barely adjusted to hip-hop productions and attitudes) and their lyrical acumen was mainly in the minds of the critics who liked to hear religious overtones in stories set in the decadent milieu of misfits, losers, nihilists and existential zombies of the heartless Californian metropolis. That said, the songs are clockworks of arrangements, textures, nuances and vocal styles, and represent the state of the art in the soul genre the way that, say, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon represented the state of the art of rock music (its not-so-great artistic value aside). It is difficult to be moved by trite coldly calculated fare like the falsetto agony of Thinkin Bout You (nonetheless one of his signature songs) or the chamber lied Bad Religion, but one can still admire how the technicians assembled the products without sounding too nostalgic when they steal from Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Prince.

The hype preceding its release did not help Blonde (2016), produced by Noah Goldstein, overcame the fundamental mediocrity of the lo-fi songs, as if they were merely reworked leftovers. The album can matter only to those who care about his autobiographical lyrics, or fascinated by moments of pathological melancholia (Seigfried). All in all, the 45-minute video, Endless, that preceded it, might be more interesting.

(Copyright © 2010-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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