Release Date: May 18, 2010
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): R&B, Soul
Janelle Monáe is not like other pop stars. The ArchAndroid, her debut album, is an 18-track, 70-minute conceptual opus, split into two suites, each one separated by ludicrously extravagant Overtures. To say it's ambitious feels like damning with faint praise; its sheer musical scope – from the James Brown funk of Tightrope to the English pastoral folk of Oh, Maker – is spellbinding.
Androids dream of eclectic funk on Atlanta ingénue’s debut Janelle Monáe’s long-awaited debut album opens with the sounds of an orchestra tuning and some polite applause, then a sharp jab of strings, the rise of an ominous choir and flittering woodwinds. If you’re sitting in front of the computer you just bought the record on, dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, you might feel underdressed. And rightly so: The ArchAndroid is a fully immersive, theatrical experience.
Over a decade ago, Destiny’s Child put out a call for “all the women who are independent” to “throw their hands up at me”. The irony that this track, Independent Women (Part 1), was prominent on the soundtrack of the first Charlie’s Angels film - basically a story of three strong, feisty women… who have all their movements controlled by a man named Charlie - appeared to be lost on Beyoncé and co. Over the next ten years, the concept of feminism and free-thinking women hardly thrived in popular music, as the stronghold of commercial hip-hop - much of which is preoccupied with the acquisition material goods and misogyny - grew and grew.
There’s a perfectly good reason why I never thought of Michael Jackson as the “King of Pop”. It’s not because I’m a hater. It’s not that I thought he was undeserving of the title. It’s that I always thought of Michael Jackson as an entire category unto himself. How, I wondered, could ….
This energetic singer’s debut comes with a narrative concept about robots. On The ArchAndroid, the real story, however, is her arrival as an uncontainable new talent. A protégée of both Diddy and OutKast’s Big Boi, she dives headlong into sounds including pop, funk, soul, rock, disco, and cabaret. Does every genre suit her equally? Of course not, but most of Janelle Monée’s mad experiments yield spectacularly catchy results.
Janelle Monáe's The ArchAndroid immediately dazzles you with its ambition. It's a 70-minute, 18-track epic comprising two suites, each beginning with an overture, telling a futuristic story starring a messianic android. It's not even the beginning of the saga-- the first sequence was her debut EP, Metropolis: The Chase Suite. The songs zip gleefully from genre to genre, mostly grounded in R&B and funk, but spinning out into rap, pastoral British folk, psychedelic rock, disco, cabaret, cinematic scores, and whatever else strikes her fancy.
Used to be that a performer was considered a triple threat if she could act, sing, and dance. Janelle Monáe may or may not possess the screen chops to match her voice and moves, but either way, implying that she has only three incredible talents would be a gross underestimation. On The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III of IV), she doesn’t just sing, she also raps well enough that even mentor and universally acknowledged badass Big Boi can’t upstage her (on “Tightrope”), does tough and clippy speak-singing like a Broadway pro (Faster”), unleashes a belt that would make Beyoncé jealous (“Cold War”), wails like a riot grrl (“Come Alive”), and—adventurous stuff aside—proves adept in more conventional gospel, soul, and jazz styles.
Any misgivings about Janelle Monáe's Bad Boy deal are nullified by the briefest contact with this, an extravagant 70-minute album involving more imagination, conceptual detail, and stylistic turnabouts than most gatefold prog rock epics. Credit Bad Boy's Diddy for allowing Monáe to fully explore the singularity on display through Metropolis, Suite I: The Chase, and work with her Wondaland crew on a bigger budget. The ArchAndroid not only picks up where The Chase let off, but contains both the second and third Metropolis suites in one shot with no discernible “let’s make some hits now” intervention.
JANELLE MONÁE The ArchAndroid (Suites II And III Of IV) (Warner) Rating: NNNN Vocal powerhouse Janelle Monáe blew our minds a year ago when she conquered Austin with a string of otherworldly performances, leaving furious hype in her wake. But instead of riding out the hot buzz like most acts do these days, she vanished back to that soulful, funky planet from whence she came. [rssbreak] She's finally back on Earth, and her major label debut is blowing minds the way Outkast once could, with a musical creativity that can't be denied.
With overlong, filler-stuffed CDs hitting the market regularly by all manner of artists, the fact that Janelle Monáe presents a double-length disc that's engaging and memorable from start to finish is creditable in itself. Considering how, on this debut long-player, Monáe audaciously skates freely across genres and sounds great wearing every hat she tries on, she's practically in a class of her own at only age 24. .
Before we talk about Monáe, let's first talk about Fritz Lang's Metropolis. If you haven't seen the film, go see it. Residents of or around New York City reading this article in mid-May 2010 have no reason not to see it: Film Forum is screening the most "complete" version since the film's premier in 1927. The film was heavily edited down after its initial screening, so most copies in existence are significantly shorter; the latest print is based off footage recently discovered in Argentina.
Bettye LaVette Bettye LaVette fights familiarity on “Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook” (Anti). Ms. LaVette, 64, now rivals Aretha Franklin as her generation’s most vital soul singer. She uses every scrape, shout and break in her raspy voice, with a predator’s sense of timing, to ….
From the spirit that her music carries, to the mind-boggling spectrum of sounds she covers, to the sheer essence and superb skill of her voice, it was always obvious that what Janelle Monáe had in mind for us would be something truly out of this world. But seriously, the woman isn’t even 25 years old yet and her music is the kind of stuff that legends dream about years in advance before making. “But I’m another flavor, something like a terminator” she sings on her Big Boi-featured “Tightrope,” sly rhyme and all, she certainly is an entirely new flavor.
A kaleidoscopic, breathless run through the genres and eras that have inspired her. James Skinner 2010 Janelle Monáe has long been the toast of certain figures in the music industry. Her 2007 EP The Metropolis Suite bagged the Kansas-born singer a Grammy nomination, while Big Boi and Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs are vocal fans; the former inviting her to guest on his albums and the latter declaring her “one of the most important signings of my career.” Her stop by The David Letterman Show (watch on YouTube) was perhaps the single most exhilarating breakout performance in recent history, and guests on her debut album include said member of OutKast, hip-hop poet Saul Williams and even indie wunderkinds of Montreal.