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Album Review: Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady

September 16, 2013 by
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The inhumanly talented Janelle Monáe once again takes on her persona as Cindi Mayweather, an android that travels back in time to Metropolis – a Footloose-like futuristic society where freedom, love and self-expression are criminal. Picking up where her sophomore smash The ArchAndroid left off, we are once again taken on an almost Disney-meets-60s-science-fiction adventure with The Electric Lady (Suites IV and V of her proposed 7-part series).

This is the kind of album that as a child you would hope would serve as the soundtrack for a Mickey Mouse space mission, and as an adult…well, still a Mickey Mouse space mission but now that life experience has granted you enough knowledge to know that Disney isn’t quite as innocent and happy-go-lucky as it once seemed, you appreciate it through a different lens where you’re aware, but not fully corrupted. Of course, it being a conceptual album need not necessarily force you to listen to it in that way, and it works just as well as a series of tracks clumped together to form an album. Yet The Electric Lady is oh so much more than that.

Janelle Monáe exhibits a greater stretch in her vocal range since The ArchAndroid, both in the sense that she can be more subdued and more roused while still maintaining that perfectly clean-cut vocal clarity – no unnecessary rough hiccups, no nothing, it’s as if the sounds she emits are both waves and particles of sonic honey. But perhaps the most notable addition to her ridiculous repertoire is her rapping; the Lauryn Hill influence on Janelle is as strong as Ghostface Killah on Action Bronson, or Eminem on Asher Roth – such a close resemblance that for a second you’re not sure which you are hearing. And like Ms. Hill, no matter what style Janelle tackles, she stays ferociously feminine whilst completely transcending gender comparisons altogether – so who better to take from than one of the queens?

Speaking of queens, the Erykah Badu-collaborative track Q.U.E.E.N. is also exemplary of the many influences had on Janelle, in this case George Clinton and Bootsy Collins. Further collaborations from Prince, Miguel and Solange Knowles not only do the album a great boon in providing its diverse sound, but also speak volumes of the talent across generations; a reassuring thought that the future of the genre is in capable hands.

The musical backdrop for all of her vocal talents branches out cross-genre, spanning throughout the past century right up to the present, manifesting most around the 60s, 70s and 80s. But that’s not to say that this is a ‘retro’ album, just ridiculously – almost too extremely – diverse. Yet it pulls everything off with an impeccable balance, where no two songs sound alike. Eclectic, experimental…the amount of nouns used to describe this album would exhaust a hefty portion of the English dictionary.

In fact everything on the album strikes such a perfect chord, that I will not even feign my own inability – or laziness – to articulate how much of a must-hear The Electric Lady is…instead, I’ll gladly settle with “You must hear it to believe it” and/or “Its quality is ineffable, its brilliance…incommunicable” as I pretentiously stroke the mustache that I don’t have. Don’t even stream it, don’t pirate it – buy it.

Okay, if I will say one thing, it’s that normally a criticism of an album of The Electric Lady‘s calibre would be that it tries to do too much. But the way that Janelle Monáe triumphantly traverses the territory between soul, R&B, funk, jazz, bossa nova, blues, rock’n'roll, rap, new wave, pop, punk and disco is proof enough that this renaissance woman for the ages has unleashed a magnificent monster of an album which effortlessly climbs to – and comfortably sits among – the top of 2013.

What the hell were you doing reading that last paragraph? You should’ve been out buying the damn thing! NOW!

10/10

You may also want to have a peek at these reviews: NgaiireLadi6Wale,  John Legend

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