Does Anyone Buy Pirate Albums Anymore?
In the recent history of American R&B music, indeed any genre worldwide, has there been any act to rival the column inches generated by Frank Ocean? The New Orleans singer and songwriter first exploded into public view in 2012 with his debut album Channel Orange and immediately turned heads. Because he was different. He was innovative. In an industry which is constantly searching for the next exciting new thing and the act to drive music forward, Ocean was a man unafraid to experiment with songs that broke the mould in terms of structure, of creative expression and of genre fusion. As a gay man he wrote songs about unrequited love with an exotic new twist. Critics loved it, and most importantly everyone was quite excited to see just what he would do next.
Except for ages he didn't. The delay between albums was not down to laziness it seems, more a relentless quest for perfection and his desire to make the best work possible. It was the way Michael Jackson worked, so why not he? Nonetheless "the new Frank Ocean album" rapidly supplanted Guns N' Roses' Spaghetti Incident as the music industry's favourite piece of vapourware. The album long teased and long promised but somehow never quite making any of its mooted release dates.
Then last month he teased some more, live streaming a negatively lit Brooklyn warehouse in which he embarked on a series of woodwork projects, interspersed with instrumental loops, the significance of which only recently became apparent. High art or whimsy? Well ultimately nobody cared, because this week the new Frank Ocean album Blond hit stores worldwide. Well some stores anyway, for the album itself was yet another Apple Music exclusive. If you were plugged into that ecosystem you could stream and buy it freely. If you weren't - well, we'll come to that point in a moment.
For all the hype that surrounded it at the time, Channel Orange was of only passing interest to British buyers. It hit Number 2 first week on sale, but lasted only two weeks in the Top 10 all told, settling in for an admittedly extended chart run around the lower reaches. Blond (or Blonde as it was mysteriously listed by Apple) goes one better, shifting a combined sale of 32,000 copies to debut comfortably at the top of the Official UK Albums chart. Eagle-eyed observers however spotted that that album did not appear under Universal's Def Jam imprint like his debut but was instead credited to Ocean's own Boys Don't Cry company. It appeared that the recording wizard had somehow sidestepped the terms of his major label deal by delivering the "visual album" Endless (and the source of the woodworking soundtrack from the live stream) to them to fulfil his two-release contract - thus leaving him free to entirely self-release his second album proper and sign up to that all-important Apple exclusive deal.
Oh yes, and on that subject. It was also reported this week that such was the level of interest in Frank Ocean's album that it was estimated that those without access to Apple Music had instead pirated the album to the tune of three quarters of a million downloads worldwide last week. And that doesn't include those listening to it via illegal streams or dodgy YouTube rips. Platforms such as Apple are working hard to leverage their brands, reaching out to the artists themselves to secure these exclusive release windows, playing neatly into the hands of people such as Frank Ocean who have engineered their way to being available to the highest bidder. Nonetheless having spend the last decade and a half re-educating the public of the evils of music piracy and using a mixture of carrots and sticks to nudge them in the direction of spending money on product instead, it hardly benefits the industry to tolerate a situation where people feel compelled to use illicit sources to consume product they are otherwise barred from accessing.
Still, fair play to him. Frank Ocean has managed to relegate the presence of Dolly Parton at Number 2 and comedian Ricky Gervais' character David Brent at Number 3 to mere footnotes in any discussion of this week's album market.
Yes yes, talk about singles then.
Deal, although we should note that Frank Ocean's celebrity is more or less totally confined to the album chart. He has yet to land a major singles chart hit of any kind, his only Top 75 entry on the Official UK Singles chart was 2013 release Lost which crept to Number 53. The only track from Blond to make any kind of chart impact is Nikes which limps to Number 93 this week, leaving his co-credit (largely as songwriter) on Jay-Z and Kanye West's No Church In The Wild the closest thing he has had to a hit single, that track reaching Number 37 in July 2012.
Pour Cold Water On Your Hopes
A tightly fought battle at the top of the singles chart this week is narrowly resolved in favour of the incument. Major Lazer's Bieber-sung track Cold Water is in serious danger of becoming stranded at the top of the charts, holding steady at the top for a fifth straight week. It does however only edge DJ Snake's own Bieber-sung rival Let Me Love You by the small matter of just 1,400 copies which truly comes down to bad luck more than anything else. Nonetheless these locked in place Number One hits do little for general public interest in the singles chart. We need movement, from whatever source.
The pair of "Suicide Squad" soundtrack hits continue to fight their way up the charts. Twenty One Pilots' Heathens shifts 7-5 whilst just behind Lil Wayne and extended family with Sucker For Pain moves 16-13 as the only single to come close this week to fighting its way into yet another becalmed Top 10 chart. Indeed six of the Top 10 singles this week are non-movers making this chart look even more becalmed.
The closest we have to a pop record making true waves is Charlie Puth's latest offering We Don't Talk Anymore with Selena Gomez in tow. Now into its tenth week on the singles chart the track rises to its highest point yet at Number 14, this after two weeks held firm at Number 23. Get out of the Week 1 mindset chart fans, what you do upon first release just doesn't matter any more. The single is Charlie Puth's third Top 20 hit (his second as lead artist) but Ms Gomez' fifth all told. Her own current hit Kill 'Em With Kindness fails to capitalise on the success of the duet and dips to Number 43, dropping out of the Top 40 for the second time in its chart life.
Still Waiting For You Ellie
Movie soundtracks have been a good friend to Ellie Goulding in the past, her entire legacy now surely cemented by 2015 Number One hit Love Me Like You Do as lifted from "50 Shades Of Grey". The warbling star is gifted the highest new entry of the week with the similarly intense Still Falling For You which features on the soundtrack of "Bridget Jones' Baby", the long-awaited third instalment in the series of Bridget Jones films. The single is written by Tove Lo who just happened to also be one of the authors of Love Me Like You Do. Bridget Jones films have a proud history of spawning chart hits, the first "Bridget Jones' Diary" back in 2001 featuring Gabrielle's now acknowledged classic Out Of Reach, Geri Halliwell's rendition of It's Raining Men as well as Robbie Williams' take on the swing standard Have You Met Miss Jones which was never a chart hit but which directly inspired the recording of his massively successful Swing When You're Winning album at the end of that same year.
The beat of the Craig David comeback drum sounds once more this week. Having landed back to back Top 20 hits already in 2016 alongside Big Narstie and Blonde as well as solo on Number 30 hit One More Time, the 2000s darling continues his drive towards credibility with a collaboration with Sigala on new single Ain't Giving Up. The meeting of minds charts at Number 29 with Sigala listed as guest artist despite the track clearly being mostly his work. Musically it achieves the odd feat of being the best single yet from Craig David's 2016 return to form but at the same time the weakest and least inspiring Sigala release so far. The two men do have past form in working together, Sigala having invited David to assist with a Radio One Live Lounge performance he gave just under a year ago as the pair covered Charlie Puth's See You Again. Oh yes, and there is a Bridget Jones link here too, the 2001 movie also using Artful Dodger's 2000 single Woman Trouble as part of the soundtrack. Co-singer on that track? Craig David, naturally.