CHANNEL ORANGE Frank Ocean (DEF JAM, 2012)
BORN in New Orleans, Christopher Breaux, known professionally as Frank Ocean, entered the radar after hooking up with experimental LA hip-hop collective Odd Future, but had once struggled to get his solo career off the ground, instead writing songs for other artistes including John Legend and Justin Bieber.
But whether it is his contribution on Jay Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne, or his modest presence in Odd Future, it is clear that everything Ocean touches turns to calm, poised class and after last year’s free-for-download mix tape Nostalgia, Ultra, he unleashes his first full-length commercial debut, Channel Orange.
The smooth, woozy beats of opener Thinkin ‘Bout You revives the classic romantic R&B spirit, asking with heart aching falsetto, “Do you not think so far... ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking about forever.” His gorgeous, dense vocals evokes the velvety quality of Prince and Stevie Wonder at their prime in Forest Gump while Pilot Jones is a spacious a cappella sprinkled with electronic blips.
For maximum effect, the album is best enjoyed in the traditional way, from start to finish as one track slides into another seamlessly, the spaces between them filled with artful bursts of radio static and lonely twangs of guitars fading into the distance.
Whether or not Channel Orange will be the breakout commercial success the label is hoping for is yet to be seen, but from the ironic subtext of the decadent life driven by the staccato of Super Rich Kids to the awe inducing song structure of Pyramids, the album is a super smooth ride, one with a wildly original talent of our times behind the wheel.
The Smashing Pumpkins
(CAROLINE/ EMI/ MARTHA’S, 2012)
HE named the band even before he had a band. Make no mistake, Billy Corgan’s indomitable will and clear, tenacious vision was and always will be the driving force behind Smashing Pumpkins.
When Jimmy Chamberlin, the band’s lone remaining original member left in 2009, Corgan not only became the last one standing but also apparently fine-tuned his iron clawed ways.
He assembled, through open auditions, Mike Byrne on drums, Nicole Fiorentino on bass and Jeff Schroeder on guitar for the unenviable task of making the first album since 2007’s Zeitgeist to bear The Smashing Pumpkins’ name.
Stadium grunge best describes opening track Quasar pieced by sludgy entangled guitars, urgent thunderous drums and Corgan’s frantic yelp while he cries “Please come back, please come back,” repeatedly in Pale Horse, a dramatic and instrumentally rich ballad in the spirit of 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Helmed as one of Corgan’s best works of late by many music critics, treats include Pinwheels which starts with a flurry of lush hummingbird synth lines building up with layers of droning cello and inspiring guitar riffs then collapses into a tender acoustic centre, its gentle quality enhanced by soft, cascading female vocals in the background. The Chimera is a solid, upbeat reason for people to bop their heads, with shrieking guitar shreds and an infectious chorus, very Zwan — Corgan’s other band.
“I’m alone, so alone, but better than I ever was,” he sings sadly, in Oceania’s title track, the loneliness not echoing regret or denial but rather an acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact. Oceania is part of the band’s looming monster project of a 44-song concept album, Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, and like it or not Corgan will realise this dream, with or without anyone’s help.