Why I Love Frank Ocean



"A tornado flew around my room before you came
Excuse the mess it made, it usually doesn't rain in
Southern California, much like Arizona
My eyes don't shed tears, but, boy, they pour
When I'm thinkin' 'bout you
I've been thinkin' 'bout you
I've been thinkin' 'bout you
Do you think about me still? Do ya, do ya?
Or do you not think so far ahead?
'Cause I been thinkin' 'bout forever
Or do you not think so far ahead?
'Cause I been thinkin' 'bout forever."

Frank Ocean is, along with The Weeknd, The-Dream and Kanye West, one of the architects of Noir R&B, AKA the hottest thing going in 2018. His stunning mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, released seven years ago in 2011, laid the groundwork for what would become the new R&B. When you heard Novacane, arguably the most important song in the formation of Noir R&B, nothing would ever be the same again. I have already written about why Novacane is so important and so good here. Longish story short: it is a masterclass in atmospheric production, evocative lyrics and a performance that knocks you over. It is the defining song of Noir R&B, more even than Wicked Games by The Weeknd, which is a hell of an achievement. 

Frank Ocean has only released two albums: Channel Orange and Blonde. They are however both exquisite works of art. The opening track on Channel Orange is Thinkin' Bout You, perhaps the most beautiful song Ocean has recorded. It is one of the great love songs of the 21st Century, up there with Bluish by Animal Collective and Come Pick Me Up by Ryan Adams. Those not acquainted R&B and Rap might be confused as to why it is such a big deal that Frank Ocean came out as gay and that he could release a song as heartfelt and personal as Thinkin' Bout You. Rap and to a lesser extent R&B have had a problem with homosexuality and all variations of sexual/gender identity, for some time. Frank Ocean is a pioneer in more than one way, from his thematic, lyrical approach and the stunning production and performance to his honesty and bravery to be an openly gay man in a potentially hostile environment. 

I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: when Brian Wilson approached Frank Ocean and Lana Del Rey to perform on his last album - No Pier Pressure - I was elated. Finally, one of my favourite artists would collaborate with two of the most vital and creative people of their generation. Well, it didn't happen, largely because of the severely negative bullshit from self-appointed gatekeepers of taste from the hardcore Beach Boys crowd. When you listen to Frank Ocean's work, it becomes apparent that Brian Wilson hasn't done anything, anywhere near its level of artistry since 2004, when SMiLE was released. It is a terrible shame, but hopefully some time in the future Brian can collaborate with Ocean. 

Frank Ocean's work on Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel Orange and Blonde earns him a reputation as one of the great artists working in 2018. I hope that we can hear a lot more from him over the years. I am holding out some hope that one day we will see a Super R&B group with Ocean and Abel. I mean, how bloody cool would that be? VERY OKAY. Let's talk about some of the best songs. Ivy, on Blonde, featured in Grand Theft Auto V, is stunning.
 
"I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me
The start of nothing
I had no chance to prepare
I couldn't see you coming
The start of nothing
I could hate you now
It's quite alright to hate me now
When we both know that deep down
The feeling still deep down is good
If I could see through walls, I could see you're faking
If you could see my thoughts you would see our faces
Safe in my rental like an armored truck back then
We didn't give a fuck back then
I ain't a kid no more
We'll never be those kids again
We'd drive to Syd's, had the X6 back then
Back then
No matter what I did
My waves wouldn't dip back then
Everything sucked back then
We were friends
I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me
The start of nothing
I had no chance to prepare
I couldn't see you coming
The start of nothing
I could hate you now
It's quite alright to hate me now
When we both know that deep down
The feeling still deep down is good."
 
Lyrically, there is no-one better than Frank Ocean working in R&B today. He has an insight and emotional complexity that rivals Bob Dylan and Billy Joel for sheer wallop. When the lift comes, up and up, on "If I could see through walls, I could see you're faking..." you remember every damn lover you've had and every time you said "I love you" to those who don't love you back. How does a person create such perfect art? How does one have the courage to display their heart in public? Ivy is just as gorgeous as Thinkin' Bout You, and it is similarly a confession of deeply held but rarely expressed feelings. It's a song about long ago. We'll never be those kids again...
 
I also love Lost on Channel Orange. Great synth line on this. It's a traveling song, and one that you hear any time you go wandering in a big city. "Now you're lost, lost in the heat of it all. Girl you know you're lost, lost in the thrill of it all. Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain, Lost." It is an odyssey around the world, something that Frank Ocean has no doubt experienced touring the world. Shout out to Nikes, with a pitch shifted vocal that recalls Prince's Camille - as does any pitch shifted vocal in any genre. It is a mournful song. "I don't play, I don't make time. But if you need dick I got you and I yam from the line. Pour up for A$AP. RIP Pimp C. RIP Trayvon, that nigga look just like me." So sad and beautiful.
 
Frank Ocean is then, one of the premier talents in Noir R&B and really, all of music being made in the world today. There are few people who can compare with his insight into love and the drugs that we take to cope in the world. Noir R&B is the belief that we will meet our fated doom, due to our moral failings. Novacane is the Noir R&B manifesto. Just like Hunter S. Thompson wrote about in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we need mind altering substances to survive in this world. Frank Ocean speaks to this world. He is a pioneer and an innovator and I hope he keeps creating art for many years to come.

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