Janelle Monáe’s latest album is a sizzling sequel to her debut The ArchAndroid. Continuing with the same sci-fi story arc, this is a concept album which offers a fun, tantalising and thought-provoking glimpse into the futuristic world of Monáe’s imagination. Monáe uses the concept album format to provoke discussion about discrimination. She has said she uses her android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather, to represent ‘the other’ – ‘I feel like all of us, whether in the majority or the minority, felt like the Other at some point.’ (The Irish Times, July 2010)
The Electric Lady is packed full of fantastic songs, from tunes that just invite you to get up and dance, like the amazing single ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ (featuring Erykah Badu) and the pop-punk piece ‘Dance Apocalyptic’, to the soulful ballad ‘Primetime’, and a superb duet with Prince, ‘Givin’ Em What They Love’. Monáe juxtaposes her music with entertaining ‘radio breaks’ for that authentic 25th century feel.
The first single from the album, ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’, is just one of those songs that you can’t help but dance to, with a strong beat and powerful lyrics. The standout moment, however, is Monáe’s ending rap – after singing about how she refuses to accept her social limitations by loving herself, she extends that invitation to her listeners – “Electric ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?”
‘Dance Apocalyptic’, although having far less of a social message, is still brilliant – the sort of music you can dance to any time, any place – whilst ‘Primetime’ is a deeply emotional ballad. Throughout the album, Monáe’s lyrics and vocals are genuine and unaffected – something that is unfortunately rare in much of today’s music.
But in amongst the musical rebellion, the audacious experimentation and the feel-good dance numbers, there are some songs that really make you stop and think; moments where Monáe touches on more personal subject matter. In the second half of the album, this comes with the song ‘Ghetto Woman’, during which Monáe sings about a poor housewife. “You were built to last through any weather”, Monáe sings, before rapping about her mother, saying that “she’s the reason that I’m even writing this song”. It adds a powerful touch of reality to an album that is, ultimately, based on a fantasy concept.
The final piece on the album, ‘What An Experience’, sounds like the song that would be played over the ending credits for a rom-com, or one of those inspirational, feel-good movies. It is a fitting ending to the album, giving it a polished sense of completion.
Other highlights are the gospel-themed ‘Victory’, and jazz ballad ‘Dorothy Dandridge Eyes’, showing just how unrestricted Monáe really is. She blends musical genres and styles with wit, grace, and no shortage of skill, resulting in an album that is truly a joy to listen to. Sharp, smart and most importantly, enjoyable, The Electric Lady is a must-listen, and hopefully just another step on the way to musical greatness for Monáe.
The Electric Lady was released on the 6th of September on Bad Boy Records