Bad Boy/Wondaland Arts Society/Atlantic
Aug 30, 2010 Web Exclusive
With overlong, filler-stuffed CDs hitting the market regularly by all manner of artists, the fact that Janelle Monáe presents a double-length disc that's engaging and memorable from start to finish is creditable in itself. Considering how, on this debut long-player, Monáe audaciously skates freely across genres and sounds great wearing every hat she tries on, she's practically in a class of her own at only age 24.
The ArchAndroid picks up where her 2008 EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite, left off. Thematically, the album revisits the character Cindi Mayweather, who aims to free the citizens of Metropolis from an oppressive secret society. It is believed that the return of the ArchAndroid will result in freedom for the android population, and Mayweather realizes that she is the ArchAndroid.
On the surface, a 69-minute opus drawing on Fritz Lang's film as a key inspiration sounds like a vehicle that's either doomed to derail under the weight of its unwieldy ambition or to lose steam from thinly stretched ideas. The ArchAngel succeeds at being an album of strong songs that incorporate the theme, providing a satisfying whole without struggling to wring songs from its story.
Beginning with an orchestra and choir performing the lush "Suite II Overture," the album flies into the speed-rapped pop of "Dance or Die," and Monáe stretches out to assert herself in an amazingly varied musical landscape. "Locked Inside" sounds like an update of ideas stemming from Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, a True Star, while "Sir Greendown" plays like a dreamy warping of the 1962 single "Johnny Angel" through an electronic prism. The joyful sprint of "Cold War" chases with a stinging guitar solo before rolling into the spirited, horn-punched single, "Tightrope," and its contribution from OutKast's Big Boi. Of Montreal joins in on "Make the Bus" for some funky, loose-limbed, Bowie-esque space-pop.
While the story serves to showcase Monáe's creative flair, the songs and her performance draw the focus here, and the wealth of highlights is startling. (www.jmonae.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Average reader rating: 9/10