Up until last week, chances were you wouldn’t have heard of Frank Ocean unless, of course, you were a big fan of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s Watch The Throne album or you scanned the song writing credits on Justin Bieber’s masterworks with a worrying zeal. Ocean is the ridiculously talented Louisiana r'n'b artist who has risen rapidly through the studio ranks to write for Beyonce, the Bieber, and appear on that collaboration by West and Mr Carter.
But he really hit the music headlines recently when he came out as bisexual. Maybe not a big deal in the world of pop but it was a brave statement to make in the fiercely hetero r'n'b and hip hop community. That kind of refreshing candour and self-awareness is all over the 24-year-old’s debut, a sprawling hour-long suite of songs about love, social injustice, and life’s highs and lows.
It’s audacious stuff that recalls Prince’s Sign O The Times in scope and has something of Outkast’s musical questing too. His lyrical themes take in a broad sweep from the high life of So-Cal’s decadent rich kids on Sweet Life, a gorgeous confection of jazzy keys and slinky bass, to Ocean’s lament for a junkie on both Pilot Jones and Crack Rock. It’s a range that suggests that he’s seen life from both sides.
The ten-minute epic Pyramids glides through a futuristic cityscape to a Pink Floyd-style guitar solo while elsewhere, Ocean lacquers on layers of ambience and silky arrangements worthy of Maxwell and John Legend only shot through with plenty of sublime quirks of his own. Long may Ocean continue to break down barriers both musically and otherwise.