Love is the Color Orange
by: Alisha Acquaye
July 17, 2012
Frank Ocean knew the first time he was in love. He said that before that moment, he would listen to songs and reminisce, thinking the melodies and lyrics he heard described his beating heart. It wasn’t until he fell in love four summers ago that he knew for sure that love was a language he yet learned to speak.
Thankfully, Frank shared his experience of love with us. It’s packaged in a 17 track getaway, that’s something like an innovative yet nostalgic television station, equipped with hints of movie influences, an Elton John sample and references to Dragon Ball Z. Plus a mysterious car ride. Life can be a sitcom, or a soap opera, and recently it has become reality tv. So its safe to say that Frank’s mini musical channel is appropriate for the times. Necessary, even.
The album is littered with all sorts of interludes and shows, ranging from topics of bittersweet intoxication, addiction, spoiled wealthy brats and an immense amount of immaculate metaphors that will slip over many a head.
Beautifully written and constructed, “Sierra Leone” describes a teenage affair that leads to pregnancy. Through the eyes of the male protagonist, he questions whether or not he should stay: “Tid bits of intuition, that I be getting, abandon mission”. He stays, however, and describes their new born daughter. His use of Sierra Leone serves as an interesting analogy for women, since it is known as a land for beauty and sanctuary, but has harbored discrepancies and conflict nonetheless.
Next are a series of songs about the privileged; from the summery, socially conscious and snap-your-fingers jazzy style of “Sweet Life,” to the critical, satirical and in your face “Super Rich Kids.” Odd Future affiliate Earl Sweatshirt graces this song as well. Elton John’s “Bennie and The Jets” is effectively used in “Super Rich Kids,” as Ocean switches from his deep toned rap to his fluttery melodic vocals on the track.
The album takes a turn, with songs of intoxication and foreboding underway. “Pilot Jones” and “Crack Rock” tell two stories of drug and people addictions. Pilot Jones has a more playful tone, with funky vocals and a stellar beat. “Crack rock” is darker in tone, with a harsher story line and a string of metaphors.
“Pyramids” still stands out, with a vast presence and a pointy peak, as one of the highlights of the album, sounding even more beautiful when it is imbedded in the compilation. The 10 minute song, half historical and half futuristic, takes you on a journey of a woman’s evolution, downfall and redemption. In the first part, Ocean describes the trials of Cleopatra, crying over her demise and yearning for her return. As the instrumentals change, so does she, and we are quickly introduced to the new iconic symbol of Cleopatra, in the form of a stripper. Ocean’s role has changed as well, and now he admires her sexuality but finds domination in her economic endeavors. Cleopatra serves as a symbol for the idea of femininity, power and sexuality in the 21st century; both tragic and intriguing at the same time.
I must admit, it took me a while to grasp “Lost.” Once it spoke to me, it was hard to stop listening to it. Don’t sleep on that track, its as meaningful as the others. And most importantly, it is the perfect chaser after “Pyramids.” It continues the situation that is contemplated at the end “Pyramids,” but with a twist. “Lost” challenges the different ways a person can be lost, within themselves, in a relationship or situation, in the several cities and countries they find themselves traveling to, and most importantly, in the drug dealing game.
“White” is precious in its own right. It has the unpredictability that we appreciate most about Frank Ocean’s music. Mayer strums his strings while Frank is personified in the accompanying instrumentals. Many were hoping for Mayer and Ocean’s dueling vocals, but the instrumentals stand just as strong without the lyrics. “Monks,” so sweet and unforgettable, is one of the more bouncy tracks off the album. Illustrating a lifestyle of touring and relationships with groupies, Ocean compares the musician to fan relationship with that of monks and the Dalai Lama.
Frank’s ode to unrequited love is heartbreaking and vulnerable, lyrically sentimental and overall, religious. His idea of “Bad Religion” is similar to bad love — being in love with a person who cannot give their heart in return. And in some parts, he explains that this unrequited love is so painful, it feels suicidal. A one man cult, he names it. Yet, the song is widely measured for its homosexual content. It can directly mean “bad” religion, as in one that denies homosexuality, thus leading to him striving for the love and acceptance of God. It also remarks on the fact that love can be so religious, so enamoring, that it leads to worship.
For me, “Pink Matter” is about more than sexuality, the feminine mystique and pleasure. It can be about the search for enlightenment and knowledge. He broods over the idea of “matter,” switching from grey to pink, and even blue. In some cultures, the female form is seen as a symbol for the meaning of existence. Sometimes life can make the most sense during an orgasm. The sensei storytelling reaffirms the notion that this is a song about discovering truth. It also helps that Andre 3000 lends a verse to the track, and Frank’s Majin Buu reference is one that many will admire. Besides, who doesn’t like that soft, sweet pink stuff? Cotton candy, of course.
I believe that “Thinking Bout You” and “Forrest Gump” are songs that need to be spoken about hand in hand. They are the opening and closing songs off the album, and both describe complex sides of love. “Thinking Bout You” identifies the love interest as a spark that isn’t allowed to ignite into a flame. Frank describes wanting a more serious relationship, but not being able to pursue one. “Forrest Gump” describes a lover who Frank adores and believes in, but one he also cannot touch because he “runs past the end zone.” He idolizes his lover through the characterization of Forrest Gump, using the motifs from the movie to compare the experiences of love.
Channel Orange begins and ends with short interludes. It opens with Play Station effects, inviting you into his video game, music television world of mystery, fun and heartbreak. It closes with a conversation in a car with a female, as “Voodoo” surrounds their dialogue. Some speculate that the final car interlude is symbolism for his past love.
I think that despite the hype surrounding his love life and sexual identity, Channel Orange is a solid piece. Its meticulous in it’s detail, accenting and highlighting certain notes and messages, and even more conscientious with its instrumentals and arrangements. It can, however, be an acquired taste for many. It’s not your typical “Rn’B” album, as it fuses several elements like techno, jazz, alternative, funk, hip-hop and neo-soul in one atmosphere. The genre bending can be overwhelming and some may find themselves switching stations. It’s not an album that sets to please everyone, but anyone can find a bit of themselves in it. Like flipping through stations, shows or staying dedicated to one channel, CO laces together art that is sometimes comedic, melancholy, sexy and brooding.
Orange is Frank’s fave color. And I think its a fitting color for love. Orange is a bright, happy and optimistic shade. Yet, it can just as easily be a strange, unattractive and sickening hue. Love never makes sense, no matter who its with. Maybe everyone can learn something about loving and living from these songs.