R&B gem tops survey of UK critics

By Andrew Johnson

Acclaimed Channel Orange named Album of the Year in poll of polls but bisexual artist says it could be last.

Frank Ocean has written that his first love was a man. Photo / AP
Frank Ocean has written that his first love was a man. Photo / AP

Bisexual hip-hop and R & B artist Frank Ocean's genre-defying second release, Channel Orange, has been named Album of the Year in a round-up of UK music critics' top choices.

Released to universal acclaim in July, Channel Orange is a deeply textured fusion of hip-hop, soul and R & B, with influences as wide as Marvin Gaye, Prince, Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd, as well as funk and electro.

It was nominated for six Grammy Awards, reached No 2 in the UK charts and has been credited by some with taking the R & B genre in a new, more challenging, direction.

The album was named Album of the Year by HMV's poll of polls of UK critics and music writers of national print and online titles.

Although Ocean has also written for Justin Bieber and Beyonce, Channel Orange is noted for its long radio-unfriendly tracks with beats, blips and guitar solos, as well as for its story telling and social commentary.

Songs include Pyramid a 10-minute tempo-changing narrative about Egyptian queens and strippers, Super Rich Kids, about spoilt youth and Crack Rock on the perils of drug taking.

But the songs about lost love initially grabbed the most attention, due partly to Ocean's announcement to a notoriously homophobic hip-hop world shortly before the album's release that he was bisexual.

He wrote on his Tumblr blog that his first love, aged 19, was a man. Several of Channel Orange's lovelorn tracks are addressed to a "he".

Ocean, 25, was already well known in the hip-hop world for his work with the Odd Future Collective, his song writing credits and soulful vocals. His first album, Nostalgia Ultra, a "mix tape" which he released for free on the internet in 2011, had led to performances with rap stars Kanye West and Jay Z.

Despite his underground credentials, Channel Orange is considered Ocean's first commercial release through a traditional record label.

The artist recently said he might turn his back on music after finding the "story telling" the most interesting aspect of making the album.

"Some people focus more on sonics. Some people focus more on story," he said. "I focus on both sonics and story. But storytelling's a different thing. It's the more interesting part about making music for me, or making albums and songs and stuff. So much so that I might not make another album. I might just write a novel next."

Second place in the HMV poll went to former White Stripes frontman Jack White with Blunderbuss, his first album under his own name.

Australian psychedelic rock act Tame Impala were third, with their release Lonerism.

-Independent

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