DO BELIEVE THE HYPE: Frank Ocean

Do Believe The Hype is a series where a writer introduces a beloved artist to another writer who has yet to be convinced by their legend.

Today it’s Tom Burrows’ turn to convince James Spearing of the genius of Frank Ocean, with a carefully curated 10-track playlist (detailed below).

So the Frank Ocean playlist from the infamous ‘lost’ episode of the Picky Bastards podcast finally makes the light of day. About time I guess. And it’s about time I gave Frank another go. I say another go as I’m sure I’ve tried to listen to channel ORANGE and Blonde aka Blond (which is it?) before but they were pretty forgettable to me at the time. I came to them several years after release, and based on the hyperbole that often accompanies talk about Frank, often from artists I like and respect, I had high expectations that were not met. That’s where I am with Frank Ocean so far. Perhaps your hand-selected playlist can do the trick for me Tom?

The playlist

Here are Tom’s choices:

  • Novacane
  • White (feat. Frank Ocean)
  • Sierra Leone
  • Crack Rock
  • Pyramids
  • Good Guy
  • Self Control
  • Nights
  • DHL
  • Moon River

Not to discourage anyone from reading all the way to the end, but the short answer to that question, and the overarching one about whether or not I believe the hype, is ‘no’. Sorry Tom. He’s talked about like some sort of visionary artist, critically acclaimed and also universally popular. There’s something that is hugely obvious to millions of people that I’m just not getting. That’s not to say it’s bad, it just does very little for me. It’s all kind of the same pace and his voice is kind of the same on everything. The lyrics don’t excite me and are often pretty dumb. ‘Stripper booty and a rack like wow’ is secondary school boy’s toilets level stuff.

Maybe if I’d heard it all when it came out, I would have seen it as something original and exciting. But looking back now it’s impossible to say whether the stuff that sounds a bit like this was influenced by Frank Ocean, or whether he’s simply a small part of something bigger.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the tracks on the playlist. Starting at the beginning with ‘Novacane’, we have some musical elements I do actually get along with and can understand the excitement around. It’s definitely an exception though. It’s that incessant groove and beat from the get go that does it for me. Plus, compared to the wayward structure of some of the other tracks you’ve chosen, it’s a very straightforward song. Downhill from here on in.

‘White’ is like an intro to a song that never comes, albeit one where Frank does demonstrate a tad more vocal dexterity. ‘Sierra Leone’ and ‘Good Guy’: ditto.

‘Pyramids’, of course, is familiar to me through some kind of passive infiltration. The intro, the nine-note riff, the ‘ow-ow-ow-ow’ vocal line. They’ve saturated all kinds of other forms of cultural consumption and made their way into my consciousness without me noticing. That’s the power and impact that Frank Ocean has had in the last decade. And it’s a nice jolly song for just shy of five minutes and then it gets lost up its own arse. Am I supposed to be impressed by the breadth of expression here, or the ambitious structure? You can likely guess I’m not. This does not need to be a nearly 10 minute song. It was going great and then he ruined it.

Your final pick on the list is Frank’s version of ‘Moon River’. I have one word for you and Frank. Why? This is a tremendously dull cover.

The rest I have little to say about. And at this point that’s probably for the best. Please can someone explain to me what it is I’m not getting? Despite your efforts Tom, I’m still bored by Frank Ocean.

Words by James Spearing

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