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Janelle Monae, ‘The Electric Lady’ – Album Review

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae

One can try to place Janelle Monáe into a box, but that would accomplish nothing. This is a woman who thrives by expressing herself through various genres, which is showcased most excellently on her new album, ‘The Electric Lady,’ out Sept. 10.

Her debut LP, ‘The Arch Android,’ was a composed mixture of indie-rock, R&B, dance and all kinds of sub-genres. It was a daunting listen for anyone looking for more songs like ‘Tightrope’ and ‘Cold War.’ Critically it was well-received, making a slew of end-of-year lists in 2010.

During her 2011 Grammy performance, she managed to channel — in less than three minutes — her funk artist stage persona and rock ‘n’ roll edge. It was safe to assume the performance would make her a household name, but she didn’t break into the popular table. Even her appearance on fun.’s ‘We Are Young’ — a huge pop record in 2012 — didn’t move her into the mainstream conversation much.

With no radio presence and no track record for any kind of crossover hit, she’s managed to build a solid following of loyal fans. Exhibit A: the prodigious guest appearances on ‘The Electric Lady.’ Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Solange and Miguel all appear on Janelle’s new album.

Since her career launch with Bad Boy Records, her music has been entirely based on one concept: her musings on society through the story of an android named Cindi Mayweather haven’t been lauded or maligned. The challenge for any Janelle Monáe listener is her apparent connection to the material. In an age when artists bear themselves outside of the recording studio, she has been extremely mum about many things including her love life.

“I wanted to create one of the best R&B albums of the year,” the Kansas City native told Spin Magazine earlier this month. It’s a difficult task to take on when the creator of ‘The Electric Lady’ has no regard for genre. While that statement was a bit confusing, ‘The Electric Lady’ isn’t — it is a more focused album. She pays homage to the ghetto girls, dancing queens, the marginalized and celebrates universal love — it’s beautifully feminine. One thing is for sure: the album definitely lives up to its name.

1. ‘Suite IV: Electric Overture’

A ’60s rock ‘n’ roll vibe opens up ‘Electric Lady’ with vocals like, “I don’t want to be a slave for electric world.”

2. ‘Givin Em What They Love’ Feat. Prince

Janelle kicks things off with his Purple Majesty. With rock drums, an electric guitar and an organ, this steady bounce track has the singer flexing her vocal chops as she belts, “I come to give you what you love… It’s time to give you what you love.”

3. ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ Feat. Erykah Badu

Funk-style guitar chords open up the first single off of ‘Electric Lady.’ Lyrics about female empowerment to music (including “twerk”) with Erykah Badu in tow have made this a fan favorite.

4. ‘Electric Lady’ Feat. Solange

This team-up with Solange makes the title track border on a ’90s girl group affair. The intro and hook lay out like something both TLC and En Vogue could have sang. The live instrumentation makes it sound very Janelle Monaé, but here’s a highlight, for sure.

5. ‘Good Morning Midnight (Interlude)’

This interlude begins to play with Janelle’s concept of droids in the future.

6. ‘PrimeTime’ Feat. Miguel

This Miguel duet is a clear-cut R&B slow-jam that definitely serves as one of this year’s upstanding love songs. Miguel’s harmonies are prominent and his words are powerful while Janelle’s verses display soft vocals.

7. ‘We Were Rock n’ Roll’

This uptempo track, which is easy to imagine Janelle performing, is an antithesis to the vibe of romance on ‘PrimeTime.’ She uses the irreverence of rock ‘n’ roll to describe a relationship that is over.

8. ‘The Chrome Shoppe (Interlude)’

This interlude continues the Cyndi Mayweather saga with a radio commercial introducing the android’s latest single, ‘Dance Apocalyptic.’

9. ‘Dance Apocalyptic’

The second single off the album sounds like a hybrid of Michael Jackson’s ‘Rockin’ Robin’ and Mark Ronson’s ‘Bike Song.’ The lyrics include references to Juicy J‘s ‘Bandz a Make Her Dance.’

10. ‘Look Into My Eyes’

Janelle continues to play with different genres here. This track carries a ’60s lounge and Bossa Nova sound. “Look into my eyes and fall in love with me,” coos Janelle while strings and kick drums sound off.

11. ‘Suite V: Electric Overture’

The music from ‘Look Into My Eyes’ continues with a tinge of mod.

12. ‘It’s Code’

A slow, early ’70s R&B groove bathes ‘It’s Code’ (a definite highlight) for a song of love lost. “I was scared to fall in love, I never thought I’d be the one to push you in her arms / Oh baby, it’s code,” she sings.

13. ‘Ghetto Woman’

On this track, she moves into funk music reminiscent of Stevie Wonder’s uptempo songs in the early ’70s, but sped up to the 10th degree. Hand claps are prominent in ‘Ghetto Woman,’ which is an anthem of solidarity. “Ghetto woman hold on to your dreams and all your great philosophy / You’re the reason I believe in me,’ Janelle delivers.

14. ‘Our Favorite Fugitive (Interlude)’

The radio show skit continues with callers on the air expressing disdain for Cyndi Mayweather — a representation of all things different.

’15. Victory’

“If loving you means fighting until the end / Then I’ll fight harder just to win,” sings Janelle on this beautiful ballad, which highlights vocals that make this chanteuse so unique.

16. ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’

This softer declaration, “Baby don’t you know, I can’t live without your love,” invokes music memories of ‘Oh, Maker’ from ‘The Arch Andriod.’

17. ‘Sally Ride’

This whimsical tune steers in the soft-rock direction serving as a continuation of the Cindi Mayweather tale: “I’m packing my space suit and I’m taking my s— and moving to the moon.”

18. ‘Dorothy Dandridge’ Eyes Feat. Esperanza Spalding

The chanteuse collaborates with 2011 Grammy Award winner for Best New Artist, Esperanza Spalding, on this ’80s-inspired track, which makes listeners think of the groove in Michael Jackson’s ‘I Can’t Help It.’ On the song, there’s a light scat included from Spalding. The singers go back and forth about a woman that possesses beauty that can’t be replicated. “Every man just wants to pass her by / And hopes that he can catch her eye.”

19. ‘What an Experience’

The album closer plays with ’90s soul-pop in the vein of Des’ree’s mid-’90s hit, ‘You Gotta,’ with a bridge bathed in reggae. “But the memories come home / It’s funny how they come back with a song,” Janelle sings.

Watch Janelle Monáe’s ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ Video Feat. Erykah Badu

Watch Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ Video

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