In this cynical world, Frank Ocean’s timing in revealing his sexual orientation 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 emerge 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 Pharrell Williams, James Ho and others, gets political on “Crack Rock.” And he gets deeply personal on “Bad Religion,” where he’s tormented by a 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 in recent 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.
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.”