Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
Released: September 10, 2013
Producer: Janelle Monáe, Big Boi, Deep Coton, Roman GianArthur, Sean “Diddy” Combs
Genre: Hip Hop, R&B, Neo Soul
01 Suite IV: Electric Overture
02 Givin Em What They Love (feat. Prince)
03 Q.U.E.E.N. (feat. Erykah Badu)
04 Electric Lady (feat. Solange)
05 Good Morning Midnight (Interlude)
06 PrimeTime (feat. Miguel)
07 We Were Rock n’ Roll
08 The Chrome Shoppe (Interlude)
09 Dance Apocalyptic
10 Look Into My Eyes
11 Suite V: Electric Overture
12 It’s Code
13 Ghetto Woman
14 Our Favorite Fugitive (Interlude)
16 Can’t Live Without Your Love
17 Sally Ride
18 Dorothy Dandridge Eyes (feat. Esperanza Spalding)
19 What an Experience
Janelle Monáe chooses to open this album the same way she opened her 2010 debut The ArchAndroid: With a recorded studio orchestra providing a bit of drama and anxiety. And when that orchestra slowly lowers its instruments, who is the first act to enter this almost theatric-like album? None other than Prince (like she so graciously promised us). If she’s able to get Prince on the album then what else can I say. They embark to sing a funky duet in the style of her one-track-partner. Slow and sexy. The song is called “Givin Em What They Love”, but I guarantee you it’s very difficult not to love what these two give us.
At first I was very hesitant to approach her music. She came into the music and entertainment industry introduced by so many important and notable figures and artists (Big Boi, Sean “Diddy” Combs, No Doubt). But soon it became clear that behind all that jazz, impressive composition and unshakable persona, there was something that evoked a kind of home-y and chilly happiness. I was hearing everywhere and all around that she was “winning the hearts of the people”. Well, Monáe was born in Kansas City, Kansas on December 1, 1985, where she spent her early life, and has stated that the fictional character of Dorothy from the film The Wizard of Oz has been one of her “musical influences.” I said it before, and I’ll say it again: “winning the hearts of the people”, because at the heart of her beautifully and intricately composed music, her eyes shine the same nostalgic yet thespianesque way Judy Garland‘s did in “Over the Rainbow”.
Though this album serves as the fourth and fifth installments of her seven-part Metropolis concept series, it’s the most personal she’s ever gotten. Along with her Wondaland collaborators; Kellindo Parker, her superb guitarist who he and he alone bossted nearly all the songs into perfection; her college friends Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Chuck Lightning, and Roman GianArthur. She, as their “notorious leader” (as she puts it herself in the music video for “Q.U.E.E.N”) create an album that reminds of some of music best and greatest in their sheer force and show stopping talent. At the core in most of her songs, she sometimes strips herself of the Cindi Mayweather persona and lest some of her own emotions leak out.
When the Tightrope-like “Dance Apocalyptic” was released I immediately felt a change in her lyrics. While shouting and singing “find a way to freak out,” I feel a desire to break away from her regular habits and themes. That’s true on the rest of the album as well. The album is overall looser and more physical than its predecessor, more concerned with dancing, sex, love, and abandon. “I wanna scream and dream and throw a love parade,” she sings with Miguel, in their sonata-like romantic duet “PrimeTime”, while Miguel does what he does best, and that’s equal parts sweetness and equal parts sexy. Which bring me to another point: She doesn’t hog all the show for herself when having guest appearances. She just goes with their flow. Prince is the driving force behind their all-around-familiar duet; and when one of the long-time queens like Erykah Badu sings with you, we have manners.
The emotional core of this album derives from the fact that Monáe both fails and succeeds to find a way to unleash all her energy. The most touching and stripped down songs on Electric Lady, like the tender soul ballads like “It’s Code” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love” feature some of the most bare and beautiful singing she has ever done. But as long as she has all that android utopia, sex-friendly, and the sensation of both control and exhilaration in her music, she will keep being Janelle Monáe.
Since I’ve talked about so many things different about this record I’ll address something that will never change. Her obsessive compulsive attention to detail. And that’s why her music carries all that aura of perfectionist perfection. “Ghetto Woman” and “PrimeTime” feature some of her greatest vocal breakdowns in her career. The guitars and percussion on “Q.U.E.E.N.”and “Electric Lady” create that loophole that Nina Simone used to do with gospel and soul, but Monáe does it with R&B, funk and neo soul. The strings carry some of the most heart-tugging melodies, and the most beautiful moments come when songs melt from an amped-up funk groove into a glimmering, soul-revue orchestra, like “We Were Rock and Roll”, “Give Em What You Love”. Gorgeous soul ballads like “Can’t Live Without Your Love” are built on the kind of rich, finely managed melodies and jazzy modulations that haven’t been the sound of the radio since the late 70s.
Taken as a whole, The Electric Lady is a worthy follow-up to her 2010 debut, in the sense that she evolved and kept the good thing about her previous work. She got a nice reality check and presented her new masterpiece in a way I thought was like watching a performance at the theater. Everything polished, maintained, practiced every day, in order to lead to a dazzling premiere and an unforgettable experience for the audience.