Album Review: Janelle Monae—”The Electric Lady”

By Kurt Grunsky

Janelle Monae’s primary occupation is as a singer and songwriter of pop music. Though this may seem obvious when actually listening to her latest album, The Electric Lady, it can be easy to forget between her overtly political image, sci-fi themes, and flashy, showman-like aesthetic. While this kind of public persona-building is interesting, it’s something that often leads people to wonder, “Does the music really live up to the hype?” Thankfully, it seems that Janelle Monae has proven that the answer to that question is (for the most part) “yes” with The Electric Lady.

Janelle Monae’s previous release, The ArchAndroid, was an ambitious concept album based around a slightly muddled Metropolis-inspired tale of a rebellious android in a dystopian city, and The Electric Lady doesn’t stray far from this concept (Monae has stated that it’s supposed to be a sort of prequel to The ArchAndroid). It seems, though, that she’s learned to tone down the science fiction elements and focus on themes that draw parallels to real life issues. Thus there’s some clever commentary through the criticism of violent revolution on the skits and the queer-positive lyrics of “Q.U.E.E.N.”, all without breaking the loose sci-fi concept.

The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

But enough about the concept – the music is, of course, her strongest point. Her chameleon-like ability to seamlessly blend pop genres from different eras is most reminiscent of her hero, Prince (who appears on  “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”), but you can hear the strong influence of Motown as well, with “Ghetto Woman” being evocative of Stevie Wonder. She even raps (quite well) on the aforementioned track and at the end of “Q.U.E.E.N.” The sonic details are incredibly well-structured, and you will find new things to love each time you come back to this album, whether it is the jazzy guitar on “Can’t Live Without Your Love” or the reggae rhythms of the finale “What An Experience.” The ultimate bonus is the reprise of a melody from the ArchAndroid song “Cold War” that can be heard at the end of “We Were Rock And Roll”.

Of course there are a couple weak spots to the album: I cannot imagine people will be coming back to “Look Into My Eyes” or “Victory” much, and the powerhouse single “Dance Apocalyptic” is so irresistible that you might actually forget that there are other songs on the album the first time you listen to it. However, overall, Janelle Monae has once again proven herself an impressively creative pop polymath.

Listen to: “Dance Apocalyptic,” “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “Ghetto Woman”

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