Two weeks before the physical release of his major-label debut, Frank Ocean made a profound statement online. Reacting to early reviews of “Channel Orange,” which commented on Ocean’s willingness to address his sexuality, the R&B singer posted a poetic account of how he fell in love with another man.
The language was direct — universal and emotionally resonant in a way that suggested it took years for him to summon the courage to write those words. That message ended up foreshadowing just how soulful and close to the bone his new album is.
Even without the dramatic back story, which has piqued interest in Ocean beyond his work with the hip-hop collective Odd Future, “Channel Orange” stands strong on its own merits. It’s a bold declaration from an artist who finally feels at ease to express himself so freely.
At 24, Ocean is already a talented songwriter, adept at dissecting everything from deception to the hollow nature of misspent youth (“Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends / Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends,” he sings on “Super Rich Kids”).
The music, meanwhile, is vaporous and dreamlike. It’s not quite minimal, but the production is clean and light. Occasionally, as on the opening “Thinkin Bout You,” the album echoes the industrial ambience that made Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak” so captivating.
The centerpiece, though, is “Bad Religion,” which Ocean pitches as a confession to a taxi driver. It feels both intimate and sweeping: “This unrequited love / To me it’s nothing but a one-man cult / And cyanide in my Styrofoam cup / I could never make him love me.” (Out now)
ESSENTIAL “Bad Religion”
Frank Ocean plays a sold-out show at Paradise Rock Club on July 28.