Remake/Remodel: Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

Frank Ocean Channel Orange review

Welcome back to Remake/Remodel, the weekly column in which one of Treble’s editors or contributors takes a classic—if imperfect, to our ears—album, and proposes an alternate tracklist in an effort to provide a different, albeit highly enjoyable listening experience. This is my first crack at Remake/Remodel, and I decided to dip into dangerous waters by taking on Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, a major-label debut viewed by many as an instant classic. And those people aren’t wrong. There is grand scope and heartbreaking power throughout much of this album. But it’s also got its aimless moments and filler, and could benefit from some reorganization. Most of this is easily accomplished by a few cuts and some additions of tracks from Ocean’s Nostalgia/Ultra mixtape.

Check out our Frank Ocean Channel Orange alternate tracklist below.

1. “Start”: It’s a perfectly fine intro. No reason to ditch it.

2. “Thinkin’ Bout You”: Also keeping this where Frank put it. It perfectly introduces you to his musical and emotional aesthetic. It exemplifies the warm innocent feelings that will later be challenged.

3. “Not Just Money”: Ordinarily wouldn’t have another interlude this early. But it allows me to cut “Fertilizer,” which is completely pointless, and “Sierra Leone,” which simply isn’t up to par with Ocean’s best work. It also serves as a good entrée into a suite of thematically united songs, namely…

4. “Super Rich Kids”: Another somewhat slow song, but putting it here allows it to build toward the more explosive tracks to follow. Also, short though it may be, I love Earl’s guest verse on this and want it to come earlier in the record.

5. “Sweet Life”: Like “Super Rich Kids,” this song is concerned with the detrimental effects of class and materialism. Its head is not as thoroughly in the sand as “Kids,” with Frank starting to question the people he’s surrounded by—as well as himself.

6. “Novacane”: Never understood why this wasn’t on the album. It’s the dark side of the California dreams on the tracks that would, in this hypothetical universe, precede it, and also it just fuckin’ bangs.

7. “Lovecrimes”: Another superlative Nostalgia cut, bringing us into the complex webs weaved while carrying on an affair. The rolling minor-key piano line and rhythm are so seductive, as Ocean decides to chase sex rather than status.

8. “Lost”: A quick break from the intensity of the past two tracks, while continuing in the same thematic vein of feeling disconnected from the massive mess of L.A. and the strange people in it.

9. “Crack Rock”: In which our protagonist gains a sense of perspective about his own troubles by examining the life of a friend lost to the hell of the glass dick. Also by putting it here, you get eased into another forthcoming musical peak.

10. “Pyramids”: Another example of me retaining a transition from the original record. There isn’t really any other place to put this massive song, documenting two millennia of men pursuing idealized images of female sexuality without truly considering the inner lives of women, from ancient Egypt to the strip club. Apart from all that, that synth riff about 1:15 in is one of my favorite musical moments of the past five years.

11. “Swim Good”: If not for one we’ll get to several tracks later, this is my favorite Frank Ocean song by a significant margin, deserving of a place on this record. Ocean takes stock of his place in the world as an artist and a man, but still isn’t quite sure where he’s going, reeling from the heartbreak he’s suffered at the hands of the women he pursued in “Pyramids.” (But it’s not a whiny, it’s-all-your-fault breakup song, which is why I like it. He knows he’s done his fair share of damage.)

12. “Pink Matter”: An attempt at introspection, with the help of some wisdom from Andre 3000 (one of Ocean’s most obvious musical precedents). The languid funk works perfectly as a comedown from the emotional stresses of “Pyramids” and “swim good.”

13. “Bad Religion”: But as much as our hero can momentarily rationalize his feelings on the previous track, heartbreak is heartbreak. It is all-consuming and choking. Few songs portray its devastation as beautifully as “Bad Religion” does, with its simple organ riff and Ocean’s most stunning vocal performance. It allows futility to be acknowledged—“To me it’s nothing but a one-man cult, it’s cyanide in my Styrofoam cup/I can never make him love me”—but the pain cannot be diminished. “Bad Religion” is a desperate plea: I know you cannot love me. But love me. Please. Please.

14. “Forrest Gump”: I considered ending my new version of Channel Orange full stop on “Bad Religion,” but that seemed far too painful, bordering on sadistic. And although I’ve never really been clear what “Forrest Gump” is about (a cycling back to the pining of “Thinkin About You,” I guess?), it’s got a gentle sound that eases your heart somewhat and offers the possibility of something positive. The shout-along vocals and claps at the end could be the sound of hope on the horizon.

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