Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid
4 stars out of 5
Reviewers’s Note: Before I start I must preface this by saying I am the BIGGEST JANELLE MONAE FAN IN THE WORLD! Now with that said this review may or may not contain a few biased opinions.
R&B can be summed up in a few themes; “Party Anthems,” “Sappy Ballads,” “Sex-Me-Down-Slow,”, and “She/He Done Me Wrong” songs. The common complaint among must music aficionados is that everything is too generic or that everyone sounds like they are trying to copy Michael Jackson. In reality, that seems to be true, but every now and again the planets align and the poles shift and something big happens on the musical scene. This go round it is The ArchAndroid.
The ArchAndroid must be looked at in the proper context to be fully understood. It is not an “album.” It isn’t a “record” or a “CD” either — it is a futuristic-rock-soul-funk-opera-musical. It is epic. It is a trilogy that must be digested in three parts (please listen to The Chase Suite Vol. I before listening to Vol. II & III).
Janelle is telling the story of “Cindi Mayweather” which allows her to shift themes musically. On “Dance or Die” she delivers a stop-start rap about dreams, life, and options, but they whiz by so quickly if you don’t listen closely you’ll miss the knowledge she’s dropping. The song melts into “Faster” which is just that — faster! She then strips “Faster” and again melts it into “Locked Inside,” a Patrice Rushen-esque midtempo song inspired by Stevie Wonder’s glasses on his Music of My Mind album (see the liner notes). By the end of the first 3 songs, you’re hooked! Ms. Monáe starts of strong but if only that energy could have been sustained throughout. She eases this problem by defying musical boxes and genre bending.
“Cold War” picks up where her last single “Many Moons” leaves off, but “Tightrope” is where the money is! It is clear that Janelle has been studying “the hardest working man in show business” Mr. James Brown, because she nails it on this song. Oddly enough she out-raps Big Boi on this song. It would have been better without him as he doesn’t add anything to the track. Whoever said black girls don’t rock has probably never heard “Come Alive (War of the Roses)” as she delivers her best indie-punk performance. It makes the hardest gangsta wanna fist pump and headbang. “Wondaland” is Swedish-pop perfection a la The Cardigans; it is catchy, cheery, and sunshiny, and the interpolation of the “Hallelujah” chorus makes it hard to not like this song. Always one for high drama Janelle closes the album with a burning bossa-nova jazz number “Babopbyeya” on which she shows her vocal versatility not only in English but in Spanish as well.
Aliens, androids, cyborgs, schizophrenics, fairies, futuristic cities, and forbidden love — as a whole, The Archandroid is a lot for the average listener. It’s interactive and requires audience imagination and participation. If you’re willing, it will take you to infinity and beyond.