Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Frank Ocean: Channel Orange [Def Jam, 2012]
One, Nostalgia, Ultra wasn't perfect. Two, neither is this, but in a different way. There's no song here as astonishing as "Strawberry Swing," "Novacane," or "American Wedding"--two of which, you will note, exploit Other People's Music (not to mention the Other Man's Music), and all of which inhabit a narrative world simultaneously richer and more ordinary than the haut-monde demimonde of most of these songs. But the musical craft on this almost sampleless album is so even-keeled that there's no song here as forgettable as "There Will Be Tears" or "Dust" either. You could speculate that when he's the sole composer Ocean resists making a show of himself--resists the dope hook, the smart tempo, the transcendent falsetto itself. And just as his music is about control, he never promotes a subject matter I believe fascinates him in a cautionary way, as the assigned fate of the r&b elite. Definitely his official debut is about the demimonde, not of it. And definitely the verbal content rules. For a musical prodigy to be a writer first is a mitzvah. But that doesn't mean we have to share his fascinations. A-