New Release (Def Jam)
Don’t get too sidetracked by Frank Ocean’s recent newsmaking declaration of his sexuality. There are indeed a few references to gay relationships in the lyrics (quite a few straight ones too), but their coexistence here is just one indication that Ocean doesn’t fall into any easy categories. Since he’s already proved he can write other people’s hits for a living, his official debut is absolutely not a collection of singles. Its slow, stoner-like pace (with lots of ‘70s-vintage Fender Rhodes piano) takes some getting used to, but his hook-writing gifts and his smooth falsetto are enough to draw you in — as are the occasional echoes of Marvin Gaye and Prince (he even borrows the horses/Trojans joke from “Little Red Corvette”). But neither pulled off anything like “Pyramid” this early in their careers; a ten-minute proggy suite, with layered keyboards that echo both Bernie Worrell and Rick Wakeman, and a scenario that shifts from an Egyptian pyramid to a strip club of the same name. If that weren’t enough, there’s a deep-soul ballad that declares “Only bad religion could have me feeling the way I do” — a song that Bad Religion should cover immediately.