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A light, airy percussion slaps atop smooth, disarming piano, images of magic hours and still bodies of water coming to mind by the time that Frank Ocean’s overwhelming, beautiful voice comes in, immediately singing of a boyfriend who’s “pretty like a girl,” the lyrical hook “I see both sides like ‘Chanel’” both serving as a great phonetic pun and a gorgeous and powerful statement of his bisexuality. Themes of duality are frequent throughout his work, and ‘Chanel’ marries masculine and feminine moods fluidly, delicate and yet assertive, gentle and yet confident.
Ocean delivers a verse that dives deeper into rapping territory than much of his vocal work on 2016’s overlooked minimalist art experiment Endless or the enormous hit Blond(e) contained. From the low notes of the beginning to the highs of the climax, Ocean’s vocal talents are shown in full force, a performer who treats his voice like the instrument that it is, versatile and yet well-defined. When he sings the chorus for the final time, his vocals seem symbiotic with the music, heart-wrenching and yet formless, a vapor cloud of feelings that cling to the air for the remainder of the song. His voice bounces effortlessly from explosive to serene, from emotive to numb, his lyrics shifting from personal to materialistic as the verses progress, his tone luxurious, indulgent and yet laid back, never one thing for too long.
Imagery of smoke rings, pools, perfume and designer bags flow throughout his lyrics, the inner turmoil and reflective questioning of his most recent efforts gone, giving way to a relaxing, soothing track that still contains some of Ocean’s signature melancholic nostalgia thanks to the keys in the background, a melody that plays out to the very end and gives the sense of reaching for something, a longing that, whether its object of affection can be possessed or not, remains to be seen. ‘Chanel’ is a poignant, double-sided work, just as the chorus might suggest, equally tranquil and aching, romantic and sprawling, a song that, for all of its musical progressions, always manages to find its way back to its core sounds, creating an excellent example of what’s made Ocean a leading force in his genre with massive cross-appeal.