Frank Ocean – “Chanel” Track Review
Having endured the drought, it’s now time to enjoy the deluge. Frank Ocean kept the world waiting four years for his follow up to the majestic and humbly heart-breaking Channel Orange. It’s successor, 2016’s Blonde, couldn’t rival its predecessor universality or mastery of melody, but it was the idiosyncratic work of an artist free to indulge his every impulse, take risks and cash in his hard earned critical credit. “Chanel” isn’t quite a return to Orange’s soft-velvety ease, but neither is it is a fractured and solipsistic as Blonde.
Debuted on the latest episode of his Beats1 radio show, “Chanel” feels like a harmonious middle ground between the trippy, coming-apart-at-the-seams side of Ocean’s psyche and its sweet, sincere and joyous opposite. In his most spectacular moments, Ocean has always embraced the drift. His mind has wandered from the sands of Egypt to the strobe lights of the strip club (“Pyramids”), only to be plunged from the back of a taxi cab into a crisis of religion and romance (“Bad Religion”).
Fittingly then, “Chanel” never feels fixed. The vulnerability inherent in his vocal ensures the track retains a sense of poignancy as Ocean flits between joy and an obsessive, almost sadly desperate need. Ocean bounces (“I rubber band a bunch of thousand dollar gift cards”) before humming with a glowing warmth, “I mean my baby boy”, because no matter where he goes or what happens: “It’s really you on my mind”.
Before arriving at this point Frank Ocean weaves a narrative about his femme lover (“my guy pretty like a girl”), drifting through the streets mixing depressingly familiar woes (no matter how famous he becomes, he still looks like a thug to the police) with trivial arguments (“how you looking up to me and talking down?). There is a thrilling feeling of imbalance that permeates the entire track. The pillowy murk of the arrangement creates this sensation of light muddied euphoria – as if Frank is not really in touch with reality at all. He is in love, he’s glowing, he’s living a life he couldn’t have possible imagined as a youth (bank cards with infinite credit and glorious swimming pools to dip in), but he can’t escape the turgid reality of being young, black and in a burgeoning relationship.
Like Chanel (the company’s logo) Frank sees both sides. The star has one foot in luxury and the other on the streets. He’s a larger than life superstar, an in demand icon admired by artists the world over, but he’s still just a man, with a petulant partner he loves, but can’t quite figure out. For all the admiration he gets in reviews like this one (and from groupies no doubt), he is afforded no reverence in his real earthly existence (or reprieve from his earthly desires).
“Chanel” beautifully captures this contradiction. Dreams do come true, but reality necessarily consumes and supplants the fantasy. It’s wonderful, exciting and conflicting, but at the end of the day, who can complain? Frank has his love and his ideal lover. He’s caught in a head rush, running around the world blissed out on his boy – even if he can be an uppity, self-entitled git sometimes.