New music by Frank Ocean means more now than it did a few months ago, thanks to “Novacane” picking up airplay, Ocean picking up top-tier vocal and production credits with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Beyonce, and Odd Future scooting farther and farther from underground novelties–when “Yonkers” gets a VMA nom, there aren’t many steps left toward the mainstream. “Thinking About You,” which Ocean posted to his Tumblr, may well remove even more steps. Listen below:
“Thinking About You” might as well be Ocean’s final audition for R&B stardom, the one after multiple callbacks where all the judges have basically made their minds up. (There’s speculation that it’s from his prior days as Lonny Breaux, although releasing it now would be telling regardless.) The backing is minimal, merely synths coaxed through a flanger and a few extra taps of percussion to emphasize a few salient words. It’s an ideal frame for Ocean’s voice, which lacks the conversational freeness of “Novacane” but substitutes plenty of falsetto, with even higher falsetto when his previous crooning starts to lose luster. It’s certainly a better look than Ocean’s verses, where he sings less than meanders through his words; you can’t croon and mumble without crossing your purposes.
But what well-timed words! Imagine “Novacane” sobered up from all its drugs and stripped of lust and asides. Yes, there’d still be a song–it’d just read a lot like “Thinking About You,” obsessed with its melancholy process of thinking about someone, continuing to think about someone despite all reasons not to, and having thought about someone since thought began. It’s romantic without reservations. The few Ocean-like flashes of personality (mainly in the inflections in the “fighter jet” verse) are secondary to the feeling.
In other words, “Thinking About You” is about the most straightforward love ballad you could expect from an Odd Future member. The timing is perfect; a smooth ballad version of “Nova-cane” without the sleaze getting in the way of its purpose is just about the best thing possible for Ocean’s burgeoning fame. The track shatters no earth, and nobody will use it as a (flawed) example about how Ocean’s changing the R&B game, but in everyone’s career is a time for a solid ballad. This is that time, and this is that ballad.