Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Frank Ocean - Nostalgia, Ultra

More melodic than Channel Orange, but not as compelling.

But don’t let that stop you.

Frank Ocean’s debut isn’t really a debut, but something that the kids call a “mix tape,” which somehow diminishes the entire outlook of Nostalgia, Ultra before you put the playback head to the magnetic tape.

Beginning with the stunning cover of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing,” a psychedelic dreamscape of youthful nostalgia, the song becomes overtaken by an alarm clock, waking Ocean from the golden slumbers of his memorable cover, before segueing into the first great song that he’s composed.  “Novacane” is a fascinating character study of Southern California plasticity through the eyes of a wide-eyed Ocean who sees the tragedy of a beauty lost, of potential unfulfilled, and of the general view of entitlement that his Orange County acquaintances possess. Yet like a southern gentleman, he points out the positive when his druggy stripper friend declares how she’d like to be a dentist one day, adding, “At least she’s working.”

Speaking of “wide-eyed,” Ocean channels a bit of Stanley Kubrick’s memory, including entire sections of “Eyes Wide Shut” underneath “Love Crimes,” and advising listeners that “this is some revolutionary shit” on par with the late director.

That would come later, but Nostalgia, Ultra certainly hints at it and is far better than anything that’s typically given away to fans.

Of course, one person who doesn’t know this kind of generosity-Don Henley-threatened to sue Ocean over the liberal use of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” during “American Wedding.”

It’s a throwaway, essentially the music with new words over the top of it (How did Ocean get the master track to do this?) and he does the same thing with the following track “Nature Feels” which lifts MGMT’s “Electric Feel.”

The only redeeming thing was that it pissed off Don Henley, and remind us of a time when MGMT were poised to becoming something great in this fickle music environment.

They never reached their fullest potential, but Ocean certainly has, transitioning from this-a formidable purveyor of “the mix tape” displaying enormous talents that would later come to fruition with his debut, Channel Orange.

Nostalgia, Ultra will be viewed as a legitimate entry, possibly too good to be given away, but too layered with easy arrangements to pose a threat to anything that he has done since.

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