Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Bad Boy/Wondaland/Atlantic) Review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Janelle Monáe

The Electric Lady

Bad Boy/Wondaland/Atlantic

Sep 19, 2013 Janelle Monáe Bookmark and Share


The future is robotic: sexless, genderless, classless, and raceless. It’s post-this, post-that, genreless, and guileless. It’s proto-android and it’s 110 percent glamorous. And Janelle Monáe is already there, dreaming of electric sheep and serving up another two suites (IV and V) of her Metropolis series, with somehow even more of the playful, idiosyncratic, and completely over-the-top style we know (and love?) her for. Conceptually, she maintains her status as ‘s concept-album queen (with apologies to Sasha Fierce), bloating her collections of divergent pop tunes with campy sci-fi story and mythology. Musically, she’s a time- and genre-travelerfrankly all over the placewith a backbone of big beats, big choruses, and big ambition.

Monáe can affect an almost spy-soundtrack grandiosity better than most in the pop game, sprinkling her arrangements with strings and horns, session players galore, and a certain elegance, for lack of a better word. See opener “Suite IV Electric Overture,” which according to the liner notes was “inspired by the idea of Ennio Morricone playing cards with Duke Ellington.” Morricone might’ve had the winning hand here, as the surf guitar takes the lead and the strings head skyward. That cinematic start serves to tee up “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love,” with special guest Prince. The contribution is of course un-fuck-with-able, with the purple one stepping in to spice up the backing vox, take a falsetto lead verse that is beyond funky, and presumably contribute some of that guitar shredding. (How’s this for a measure of artistic success: can you get Prince to show up and do a guest spot? Thinkin’ the answer there is usually a hearty “yeah, no.”)

Monáe makes use of some other friends here as well. “Primetime” boasts a trade-off with the silky-voiced Miguel, going sing-song over a powerful but minimalist chord progression, all angelic synths and slapback snare ambience, just boilingseduction’s the word. Get under the covers. The title track features Solange, cranking out a chorus worthy of the Knowles name, all melisma over a pretty straight-up, thumping ‘90s break. “Q.U.E.E.N.” features Erykah Badu and a distinct Paisley Park vibe (coincidence?), breaking down eventually to a ferocious rap section toward the end. Monáe drops the line “categorize me I defy every label,” which is just plain true, and half the thrill of her albumson first spin you have zero idea where you’ll end up, drifting through manic swing-pop, textbook R&B hooks, interstitial skits, winking pastiche, outrageous musical theater, and then some. You’ll exit with a handful of favorites, you’ll cringe a few times, and it’s all simply part of the experience. Apropos that, this one comes to a close with “What An Experience,” striking ‘80s perfection with its basic 808 beat, chorused guitar, and chorus hook that will sit in your head for days. That’s before it explicitly apes the UB40 version of “Red Red Wine,” which, wellwho else can get away with that? The Electric Lady, that’s who. The same one who can summon Prince. Power up. (www.jmonae.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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