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Hot Jams 107

Review: Janelle Monae, “The Electric Lady”


Finally, an artist that geeks and R&B enthusiasts can agree on…

The 3rd effort in a concept cycle based on the 1927 film, “Metropolis”, Janelle Monae has settled, as comfortably as she can, into her own brand of stardom. “The Electric Lady” takes a few listens to fully reveal its hooks and layers, unlike the immediate appeal of 2010′s “The ArchAndroid”. It is there, however, with no small love given to her band, most importantly, guitarist Kellindo Parker. His slinky riffs add a background of playful and rubbery rhythms, the perfect foil for Monae to throw her canvas of words upon.

One of several album interludes kicks off the proceedings(they really do add an atmosphere of a late-night DJ keeping us company in this troubled world of androids and humans), before the aforementioned Parker throws a sinister intro at us, and Janelle seductively struts in. And none other than Prince is in danger of being blown off the song by her fire.

“Q.U.E.E.N.” is a collaboration with Erykah Badu that bounces with knife-sharp, minimal guitar work, and synth warps. Badu does manage to get a little long-winded during her second half of the song, not utilizing her mammoth high range as well as she did on Outkast’s “Humble Mumble”, for example.

The first half of the album is the real meat, with the immediate choruses, the lyrics that stick with you, and the music that speaks its urgency. “Primetime”, “We Were Rock & Roll”, and “Dance Apocalyptic” are definite album and career highlights. They, among the other first 10 songs, really speak to Monae’s growth and incarnation into her current status as the new funky soul diva/art school chick. While the general theme and story of Cindi Mayweather and her time travel exploits to free her entrapped people gets a little muddled and hard to recognize in these more personal songs, it’s more of a blueprint for the feel of the album.

While the first half was a more danceable affair, the second half becomes more reflective, with more slower-paced songs, and more heartfelt singing and songwriting. The one exception in this bunch is “Ghetto Woman”, a spiritual successor to Stevie Wonder’s “Black Man”, off his seminal “Songs in the Key of Life”. In what must be a perfect sampling of the drums and keyboards off that very song, Janelle does the original justice and then some. If her passionate singing doesn’t add enough, she breaks out into a breathless rap close to the end, a real tour de force of artistry, and it’s all her own.

Again, while not as cohesive and staggering as “The ArchAndroid”, Janelle Monae has realized another album in completely her own style and terms. Rich as a tapestry, ambient, luscious, and most importantly, ALIVE, in this world of electronic blurbs and blorps, she has the rare and unique opportunity to do what she wants, and in her own time frame. And that is how all great music should be made.

Crockett Scale: 8/10


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