The PR company behind the build up to Frank Ocean’s first album proper deserve some sort of medal. In terms of building hype, the whole ‘Frank Ocean comes out’ business turned out to be a masterstroke—reviews of the album, available to stream on his tumblr right now, have been gushing in the extreme, as has the general praise for Ocean’s openness about his sexuality- although what that openness really boils down to, is he fancied a guy for a bit, and nothing much happened. Cynical it may be, but I have to wonder, if it came out that Ocean was living with another guy, as a couple, whether there would be such success. There’s also the suggestion that this is some sort of first in modern RnB. I believe Prince is still alive and well, and may have plenty to say about using malleable sexuality as part of a persona….
Regardless, it makes the album harder to listen to in isolation—the first track, Thinin’ About You, a plea to an unnamed lover, is apparently directed at the male focus of Ocean’s teenage infatuation. Still, whoever the subject matter is doesn’t, and shouldn’t really matter—the song is simply beautiful. Ocean’s voice soars from his Southern drawl to a perfect falsetto over a languid beat. After this the album meanders, a jazzy lounge lizard sipping on Kool Aid. There are highpoints- Crack Rock is the tale of a crack fiend told over organ stabs and percussion heavy drums, and Super Rich Kids details the numb limbo lived by the children of the mega rich, with fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt lending some typically sardonic bars. Leaked track Pyramid is a pinnacle (‘scuse the pun)—a crazed psychedelic disco epic, 9 minutes of sparkling arpeggios, Egyptian imagery and fat chunks of bass that build and fall, as though the song were trying to emulate the structure of its title.
However, between these sublime moments, there’s a whole lot of jazzy wandering, Frank singing in his lovely voice about nothing much in particular. The end result is a long album that occasionally hits some dizzy heights, but often leaves the listener (this listener anyway) a little bored. Ocean is undeniably a great talent, and with his ferocious work rate this album will doubtless by replaced by another, or at the very least a mixtape, by the end of the year. But for the writers hailing this as a piece of perfect art, I feel the hype has done its job a little too well. ..