Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Genre(s): R&B, Contemporary Pop/Rock, Retro-Soul, Alternative R&B
Record label: Bad Boy
Music Critic Score
How the Music Critic Score works
Buy The Electric Lady from Amazon
Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady arrives fully formed, in a delightfully conceptual way. When someone of Prince's pedigree elects to guest star on your album, you know you're doing something right. Continuing on the sci-fi, dystopian, Afro-futuristic, R&B world-building of 2010's The ArchAndroid, Monae once again tackles sexuality, gender and social empowerment issues in an automated and allegorical fashion — though the eyes of android avatar Cindi Mayweather.
Review Summary: The visionary pop star follows the trajectory of her genre-hopping previous endeavors with more driving ambition and artistic creativity to boot.The mainstream obsessed with record sales is growing deficient in real passion these days. Janelle Monáe, who's lately complained about the poor quality of recent r&b records in numerous interviews, certainly knows how to fix that problem. The futuristic Metropolis saga featuring the singer's alter-ego android Cindi Mayweather has been her labor of love from the get-go, dating back to early demo recordings and culminating in critically acclaimed The ArchAndroid three years ago.
An Ennio Morricone sonic vista opens The Electric Lady, the sequel to Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid, making its ambition obvious. Overture burning off, a tugging groove rises and Monae’s neon howl proclaims, “I am sharper than a razorEyes made of laserBolder than truthThey won’t be locked up in the system‘Cause I am on a missionBlame it on my youth…” Joined by Prince on the churning song of rebellion, connection and owning one’s desires, the searing funk embodies youth seizing the moment. Also the battle cry of Cindi Mayweather, Monae’s android alter-ego who’s slated for disassembly, the notion of love being something to fight for emerges as an undercurrent for the soul/punk/funk émigré’s latest.
It’s been three years since Janelle Monáe burst onto the scene, armed with a debut album that remains one of the most accomplished artistic statements from a newcomer this decade. Critics searched high and low for flaws, lyrical missteps, incongruous guest spots, little glimmers of imperfection that we are accustomed to finding on debut releases. In lieu of anything noteworthy, we wondered whether Monáe might have given us too much to digest in one sitting.
Thank you, Janelle Monáe. For weeks, I’ve been haunted by the image of Miley Cyrus pretending to rim the ass of one of her black dancers on the stage of the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Most of the press skipped over this overtly racial display to focus on the YOLO-shenanigans between Miley and Robin Thicke. Some of the smarter commentators, though, were less troubled by her sexuality than her white privilege, especially since such privilege was hiding in plain sight behind the fake politics of her post-tweener liberation.
Review Summary: She's on fire.Exciting music lends itself to exciting discussions. While the talks about Janelle Monae’s latest record have been predictably revealing, only one sentiment about The Electric Lady has stuck with me-- this is the warmest Monae has ever sounded. On Suites II and III of The Archandroid, the soul diva found herself contending with multiple themes via innumerable musical styles.
Janelle Monáe opens her second album the same way she did her 2010 debut: with a sumptuously recorded studio orchestra tossing off flourishes with abandon. When the smoke clears, the first full song features a guest vocal from...Prince. Monáe is not the kind of entertainer who takes prisoners; she operates at the locus of generosity where "generous" shades subtly into "aggressive." The song is called "Givin Em What They Love", but the feeling is a little more "take you home and make you like it." The facts of Monáe's emergence have occasionally made it difficult to embrace her music: She arrived so thoroughly anointed by so many key figures in the entertainment industry that it has sometimes felt pointless to try and touch her.
It’s hard to recall many artists who have emerged from a debut record with such an assured sense of artistry and potential stardom as Janelle Monáe. Commanding attention with the unshakable ‘Tightrope’, the three years of live shows since have put her at the receiving end of a tidal wave of well-earned clichés, proclaiming her the tuxedo-wearing, foot-sliding, gender-shaking saviour of R&B past, present and future. It’s far from unmerited: how many people can you name who are able to roll out a straight-faced cover of Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ and legitimately nail it? And what greater sign of kinda-a-big-deal can there be than a second LP with an opening song guesting Prince? But for all the irrefutable evidence of Monae being within a fingertip of becoming a Beyonce-rivalling, stadium-packing superstar anytime she wants to, The Electric Lady doubles down on her eccentricities rather than lurching further towards the mainstream, creating a glorious, unwieldy opus of futuristic-retro-funk-soul-R&B-pop.
Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Solange, and Miguel contribute to the fourth and fifth Metropolis suites, but it's not as if Janelle Monáe and her Wondaland associates were short on creative energy. Equally as detailed and as entertaining as The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady likewise is a product of overactive imaginations and detailed concept engineering, and it also plays out like a sci-fi opera-slash-variety program with style and era-hopping galore. Suite four is the album's busier and more ostentatious half, more star-studded and less focused, highlighted by the bopping "Dance Apocalyptic" and the strutting Badu duet "Q.U.E.E.N." Suite five is considerably stronger with a handful of firmly R&B-rooted gems.
The near-cohesion of Janelle Monáe's The Electric Lady is impressive, given the singer's rather too-expansive artistic headspace and commendable, if tricky, devotion to her own outré obsessions, including but certainly not limited to aliens, robots, and robot-aliens. The album is a lengthy but never boring tribute to bounce and grind that coheres less on Monáe's personality than on her sense of melodic surprise. The liner notes, which warn that the songs “CONTAIN UNGOODLY MESSAGES, REVOLUTIONARY COUNTERVOODOO, AND HARMFUL WONDERVIBES,” suggest a narrative agenda, but the story Monáe seems most interested in telling is one about how R&B isn't dead.
It’s been a decade since Janelle Monae independently released her debut music project, The Audition, on her own Wondaland Arts Society label. The Kansas City native left home to study drama and the arts in New York City and Philadelphia before landing in Atlanta, where she met Big Boi and distributed several hundred physical copies of the aforementioned album. The self-proclaimed “country girl” had set a goal: to inspire.
Monáe's second full-length record is just as irresistible as her first: a supercharged collection of funk, soul and jazz, all in service to the cosmology of Cindi Mayweather, intergalactic android alter ego. There are songs dedicated to Sally Ride, America's first woman in space, and Dorothy Dandridge, the first African-American actress to be nominated for an Oscar, but the grooves are as on the money as the references. She's irrepressible and the record sparkles with personality and elan, sealing her as a pop star worthy of the illustrious company she keeps – Prince, Erykah Badu and Solange are among her collaborators here.
Thomas Edison once noted that “genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration”. It’s a maxim which frequently crops up with regards to pop music, where so many artists try so hard to achieve something approaching greatness. When it works, of course, something magical happens and the effort is elided (sometimes so much so that we take it for granted – it took Michael Jackson’s death for us to realise what we’d had amongst us); when it doesn’t, it comes off as desperate and grubby (see post-2010 Lady Gaga).
On the website of the Wondaland Arts Society, the Atlanta collective of which Janelle Monáe is a linchpin member, there is a video treatment for her most recent single, Dance Apocalyptic. Most of its ideas ended up on the cutting-room floor, but they offer at least some clarification about about the future dystopia that Monáe's albums depict. It is a world in which humans are forced to wear cages on their heads, presumably by a totalitarian regime with a thing about heavy-handed symbolism.
The future is robotic: sexless, genderless, classless, and raceless. It's post-this, post-that, genreless, and guileless. It's proto-android and it's 110 percent glamorous. And Janelle Monáe is already there, dreaming of electric sheep and serving up another two suites (IV and V) of her Metropolis series, with somehow even more of the playful, idiosyncratic, and completely over-the-top style we know (and love?) her for.
Throughout the 1970s, Alice Sheldon wrote stunning science fiction under the pseudonym James Tiptree, Jr.. Stories like “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” and “The Women Men Don’t See” dealt not only with aliens, but also with female alienation and gender politics, both in the present and the future. Sheldon explained the subterfuge in a 1983 profile with Asimov’s Science Fiction: “A male name seemed like good camouflage.
Last year, Janelle Monáe sang on a Grammy Award-winning Number One hit. It remains her most high-profile moment, but also her least impressive one. That’s partly because she’s only on Fun’s ‘We Are Young’ for 20 seconds, but also because the song itself – a clumsy power ballad by a bunch of arena-rock numpties – is much less exciting than Monáe’s own music.The Kansas City singer’s 2010 debut album ‘The ArchAndroid’ was an ambitious mix of funk, soul and psychedelic pop that stretched over 68 minutes and featured a storyline about a messianic robot called Cindi Mayweather.
You've got to admire an artist who can cut through the weight of her own pretensions. And with Janelle Monáe, the pretensions are pretty impressive. Her 2010 full-length debut, The ArchAndroid, was a head-spinning album conceived as parts II and III in an ongoing suite based on Fritz Lang's expressionist silent-film classic Metropolis. This album is parts IV and V, and it weaves hiphop soul, Seventies funk, gospel, jazz and rock while dropping references to sci-fi author Philip K.
Tuxedo aficionado Janelle Monáe earned a rep as resolutely genre-averse with her sprawling debut, The ArchAndroid, part of an ongoing series of concept records about her android alter ego. This time she focuses on exploring different facets of R&B, but the results are mixed. Billed as a prequel to The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady lingers on questions of blackness, femininity and queerness in songs like the funky female/gay anthem Q.U.E.E.N., a collab with Erykah Badu.
The fourth and fifth suites of Janelle Monáe’s metropolis concept are entitled The Electric Lady and with an arsenal of styles and flavors, it’s clear that Monáe is an undeniably gifted artist. Much like suites two and three, The ArchAndroid, the music on here is a remarkable blend of funk, soul and R&B unlike any other. With so much music that is incredibly concentrated and still, flying high off her tremendous storyline, Monáe packs everything in with superb skill and the penultimate suites to her wondrous android world are dynamically fresh and downright exceptional.
On her 2010 breakthrough album, Janelle Monáe announced herself as one of the most exciting and visionary pop artists to have emerged in a very long time. That record, a 70 minute two-suite continuation of the Metropolis concept story featuring her messianic android alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, showcased a remarkable depth of craft, consideration and performance. Rather than alienating with its concept, it used the story’s sci-fi base as a springboard to deal with notions of identity, self-liberation and love triumphing over hate in an Afro-futurist context – it was much more than ‘just good pop music’.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS Talent and personality alone can’t explain Janelle Monáe’s tremendous allure, though she has an abundance of both. Notwithstanding some phenomenal singles, the songs on her early EPs and her 2010 debut The ArchAndroid rarely transcended eclectic style experiments. They worked best as part of a grand conceptual scheme, one alongside another.
Janelle Monáe’s feet barely touched the ground on her last album, 2010’s “The ArchAndroid.” She was in her own galaxy, a weird, wonderful pop cosmos where James Brown, David Bowie, Betty Davis, and Michael Jackson were all touchstones for Monáe’s shape-shifting music. That album, bolstered by her blistering live shows, was a showstopper (not to mention a steamroller), and it made Monáe a force who couldn’t be bothered by the confines of genre. In a tuxedo and pompadour, she danced on the fringes of R&B, funk, soul, pop, and chamber music.
Featuring tighter songwriting, double the hits and zero filler, the follow-up to 2010’s The ArchAndroid sees Janelle Monáe take another step closer to becoming pop’s next polymath genius. An album of dazzling variety, endless conceptual invention and rich musicianship, its sheer imagination, scale and scope leaves the studio efforts of most other contemporary pop stars in its wake. The second ‘e-motion picture’ in the so-called ‘Metropolis’ series, The Electric Lady is framed and then punctuated by panoramic orchestral interludes, film noir cues, and spaghetti western tropes.
In a modern pop music landscape in which the single is king and hit-making producers are mostly free agents spreading their sound through vessel vocalists, Janelle Monae and her Atlanta-based Wondaland Arts Society stand out. On Monae's grandiose new album, "The Electric Lady," Wondaland's creativity is on full display. A continuation of a seven-part series that Monae and company introduced in 2007, the singer and a great mix of guests (Prince, Miguel, Solange, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding) again travel a fictional landscape.
is available now