Janelle Monáe has released her second studio album, The Electric Lady.
The follow-up to 2010's acclaimed The ArchAndroid, the project packs a total of 19 original records from the genre-bending singer/songwriter and producer, including reader-approved singles "Q.U.E.E.N.," "Dance Apocalyptic" and "PrimeTime." Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel and Prince make guest appearances throughout the set, which boasts beats from the likes of Chuck Lightening, Nate Wonder and Roman Gianarthur, as well as production by Monáe herself.
The Electric Lady Album Review
On her second album, The Electric Lady, Monae cooks us up a deliciously diverse musical gumbo, pulling its ingredients from jazz and funk, electro and hip-hop. Beginning with her first project, an EP in 2007, Monae’s music operates in a fictional universe, a utopia of sorts where cyborgs are the dominant race and an “Electric Lady” humanizes its citizens with her music under the name Cindi Mayweather (Monae). This concept results in a very fantastically feeling theatre production, a strange mixture of 007’s thrills and Wizard of Oz’s quirk and spook. It also results in a musically varied album that deals with familiar concepts in extremely fresh ways. Two strictly musical overtures and three skits effectively aid in fleshing out the album’s universe.
The show kicks off with Given ‘Em What They Love, an aggressive, in your face track that features Prince-esque psychedelic guitar funk, as the man himself appears to deliver the songs second verse. Monae exudes confidence on this album, flipping a robotic bird at anyone who wishes she be any other way then herself. That sentiment is expressed in the next track, Q.U.E.E.N., featuring Neo-Soul pioneer, Erykah Badu. The track is a female anthem, though not in the traditional sense. Instead of preaching confidence and identity in terms of sexuality, over a skittering guitar and a string section towards the end, Monae and Badu muse that cool is not being skanky and sexy, but cool is being you. Funk what others think; physical attributes don’t define a Q.U.E.E.N. So let her “eat wangs and throw them bones on the ground”.
The Electric Lady lacks any duds that short circuit this funky cyborg’s show, and it has some highlights that are some of the best of her career. Victory is the album’s most hip-hop centric track, where she sings of finding glory in all the little things in life. The title track, featuring Solange Knowles, yes, Beyoncé;s sister, is catchy and funky and packed with potent lyrics that grab the listener from the initial thump of the first note. It’s bold and sexy and is just impossible not to move to. Speaking of grooving, Monae loves to dance, and loves even more to inspire dancing with her music.
Dance Apocalyptic pleads with listener to dance, just dance and forget about the worries of the day, dance like it’s your last day on Earth. Her goal to inspire dance is easily accomplished with the track’s sunny vibe and easy sing-a-long chorus. When feeling blue, turn this song on and your hue will be sure to change. The album generally is very bright, both musically and lyrically, and has Monae in a positive space. However, there are some flourishes that are downright spooky, and add great texture to her utopian fantasyland. Look Into My Eyes is hypnotizing. Monae’s voice has a creepy effect, and there are background vocals that sound like they were recorded by a couple of oompa loompas.
Aside from pushing individualism and dance, Monae dedicates a large portion of the album to love. This is where she checks the cyborg suit at the door and strips down to her most bare, human essentials. Primetime is as pure a ballad as Monae has ever done, and damn can this girl sing. Miguel expectedly delivers on his guest spot, but its Monae who really dominates the track. Dorothy Dandridge Eyes has a Latin influence musically, and is filled with poetic lyrics from Monae. The album’s love content largely deals with loss, and the yearning for a return to what once was. It’s all done in a beautiful fashion, with jazz and blues being the musical canvas that Monae paints her pain on.
Listening to Janelle Monae is like a trip to the opera, or a visit to Broadway. There’s drama, sure, but there’s story and there’s nuance. There’s intrigue and mystique, and there’s relatable characters that operate under a fictional guise. She’s a one-woman show, and handles all her duties graciously. The Electric Lady plucks horns and rhythm from jazz and blues, drums from hip-hip and soul, and breezy strings from an orchestra pit. A glaze of funk covers it all. The Electric Lady can sing and dance; she can be herself without the approval of anyone else. What an apt title for an apparent cyborg who can seem out of this world at times, but is an electrifying lady at most.
DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins