Track Review: Frank Ocean – “Sweet Life”

[Def Jam; 2012]

Last week, Frank Ocean made headlines in a heroic way by letting the world get a glimpse of his personal life. And with his debut album, Channel Orange, due out in a mere week, he’s bound to get the music world talking as it is one of the more anticipated albums this year since it was first announced. He released the first single, the ten-minute epic “Pyramids” last month, and now he’s back with a follow-up in “Sweet Life.”

Co-written and produced by Pharrell Williams, “Sweet Life” provides further evidence of how incredible of a singer and songwriter Frank Ocean is. Opening with a brief, electronic handclap, he’s soon accompanied by a warm, jazzy bass line and a smooth, minimal keyboard. But as the song progresses, you’ll begin to notice how full and lush the track becomes – and that’s what makes the song so absorbing. The way the subtle horns are layered throughout the song and the intricate guitars toward the end show that this is a rather complex song than initially thought. Ocean’s vocals are as smooth and seductive as ever and display his natural ability to craft a fine narrative. For example, he sings about how the greatest pleasures in life aren’t always luxurious or what others claim as popular. Rather, there is beauty to be found beyond what’s aesthetically appealing and within simplicity: “the best song wasn’t the single, but you weren’t either/livin’ in Ladera Heights, the black Beverly Hills/domesticated paradise, palm trees, and pools/the water’s blue, swallow the pill” and later “my TV ain’t HD, that’s too real.” The way he expresses the lyrics flow poetically, and are genuine and honest like it does on his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, rather than forced or contrived.

It’s not hard to see why Frank Ocean has received praise from legends such as Russell Simmons and Stevie Wonder, who apparently sang Jay Z’s and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” to him at a party. He has the potential to breakout and makes an impact in the hip-hop scene in a way that hasn’t been done in a long time. And if “Pyramids” and “Sweet Life” tell us anything, it’s that Channel Orange is going to be an album full of diverse tracks that display his versatile ability at writing consistently impressive songs.