Welcome to Terrible Tuesdays, a new regular column at The Longfellow Bridge that focuses on Music, Movies, Books, and more that may have more critical acclaim than is justly deserved. Feel free to disagree with us in the comments below.2012 was a terrible year for music. Let that sink in for a moment. 2012 was a terrible year for music. Let that sink in for a moment. I’ve been involved in multiple flame wars wherein I was once dubbed to have a Pitchfork-esque cynical view of things. But really, it truly was an awful year; we were told that the “too bored to be bothered trying to sing well” Lana Del Rey was the second coming, Katy Perry had the 20th song ever to debut at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and when Green Day frontman Billy Joe Armstrong went into a half-assed rant about how Bieber was destroying the music industry (very original) at a huge corporate-sponsored variety show (very punk) with no positive response, he checked into rehab because his behavior was clearly alcohol-induced (very predictable). And sadly, in the case of Green Day, they’re one of the few rock bands the masses actually pay attention to. To the music listeners who like “everything but country” (which, when translated into English, means “I do not like music and have top 40 on in the background”) this is the rebellion that should accompany music. It’s sad when the music of the year was weak enough that rebellion was all we had to look forward to. Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” was released in July of 2012, providing the perfect nadir within a year of mediocrity. Frank Ocean’s “channel ORANGE” was released in July of 2012, providing the perfect nadir within a year of mediocrity. Amidst some early buzz from the aforementioned Pitchfork and mainstream media press (when both are hyping an album, you know some serious cash is involved in the promotion), Ocean dropped lead single “Pyramids”. “Pyramids” is an impressive R&B epic with a very clever selection of synthesizer tones, passable lyrics, and solid vocals that made the 9:32 running time go by in what appeared to be five minutes. It certainly made the hype believable to some extent. Perhaps Ocean was going to usher in a new wave of R&B creativity heretofore unknown; the prognosis was optimistic.
The problem is Ocean didn’t follow his own lead on “Pyramids”. The rest of the album is bland, often lyrically quite weak, and worst of all predictable. Following an intense and creative precedent, hearing an intro track featuring retro video game sounds and color-by-numbers opener “Thinkin Bout You” was actually startling. Featuring a gentle use of Auto-Tune on melodies that were out of date in 1998, stock synthesizer patches, and a static drum loop that must have taken all of two minutes to create, “Thinkin” is the exact opposite of “Pyramids”: uninspired, underproduced, and boring.Unfortunately, the trend of mediocrity is one that persists throughout “channel ORANGE”.Unfortunately, the trend of mediocrity is one that persists throughout “channel ORANGE”. Segue tracks act as filler between songs that are virtually indistinguishable; “Sierra Leone” differs only from “Thinkin Bout You” in that it is more produced; the same drum loop and roughly the same tempo are repeated. Coming from the same man who wrote “Pyramids”, it just sounds lazy. “Super Rich Kids” builds off of a stock loop from Arturia’s ARP2600 plug-in, and limps lifelessly through the repeated even bonk of staccato piano chords. A memorable vocal melody or clever lyric is nowhere to be found. Even the endlessly creative and energetic Andre 3000 can’t save the snoozefest that is “Pink Matter”; his start and stop rap comes in well over halfway through the song, and is a case of “too little, too late” so save the slow, plodding ballad.
This said, the album is not a complete loss. Not to sound like a broken record, but “Pyramids” is fantastic. “Monks” provides a late-album reprieve of energy through some inspired drum programming, and “Fertilizer” is a promising enough melody to have been a strong full-length song, but is maddeningly delegated to forty second segue status. Closing track “End” begins with some interesting off-kilter vocal production, but quickly becomes a long and slow fade into the cliched sound of rain pouring before we hear what sounds like a person stepping into their home, closing the door, and proceeding to scratch themselves.Despite his promise, Ocean falls into the same slump that Lana Del Ray and The XX fall into. The biggest problem I have with “channel ORANGE” is that Ocean has proven himself capable of writing truly impressive music. Short of its lead single, the rest of the album generally falls flat and lands in “generic R&B” territory. Sadly, despite his promise, Ocean falls into the same slump that fellow class of 2012 members Lana Del Ray and The XX fall into: one of boring, uninspired music that is critically acclaimed for reasons far beyond me.
Wave of genius or drop in the ocean? Let us know in the comments below?