Best Albums of 2013: #4
4. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
Electric is an understatement. Janelle Monáe’s second studio album is fierce.
Faces in the Crowd*
In a females world run by Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe is a breath of fresh air. Not only is her voice amazing live, she also writes all of her own stuff. There are few things I admire more in an artist than knowing every song is theirs. It makes the music more personal and creates a better experience overall. The example she’s setting for not just women but people everywhere isn’t something to be overlooked. She’s confident, ambitious, and intelligent; all traits that are lacking more often than not in today’s society. She’s bringing back the idea of artists making the music THEY want. She’s not worried about selling out and in turn her music is so pure. There really isn’t another female artist I’d rather have young girls aspire to be like.
“Even if makes other uncomfortable, I will love who I am” says Janelle Monáe on her second studio album and she isn’t really fibbing when she says that. She wears tuxedo based clothing, has an incredibly interesting hairstyle and has spent the majority of her young career writing songs about a science fiction universe in which she created her android alter-ego, Cindi Mayweather. Monáe caught everyone’s attention for her unique characteristics as well as her undeniable energy and passion. Even if you don’t like her music, you still have to respect her unbelievable stage presence. She might be one of the best live female acts in popular music right now. She’s a fierce performer, has a fantastic voice and her music speaks for itself. She’s like the outcast Beyoncé. Her stock is only rising. Over the past few months she has inked deals with Target and Covergirl to appear in commercials for the respective companies. At the age of 28, the sky is the limit for Janelle Monáe.
So, where is Janelle on her second studio album The Electric Lady? Picking up right where she left off on Metropolis and The Archandroid. In her musical world, Janelle Monáe likes to use her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather as a voice. She places her in this fictional world that faces similar social issues that the real world does. Monáe seems to be a private person in regards to her personal life when she does interviews. So, she uses her alter-ego to protect that privacy while still making artistic and societal statements. Through Cindi, the often classy and proper Monáe can also be as aggressive and wild as she wants to be. Janelle makes sure she makes the best out of her alter-ego, but just because I mentioned the words aggressive and wild, doesn’t mean that Janelle is gonna be acting out for attention. Instead, she lets her insane amount of energy shine through without going out of control.
The Electric Lady opens with a bang in the groovy foot stomper that is “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love”. Monáe collaborated with Prince on this track and this one is her at her most fierce. Prince even contributes a pretty sweet guitar solo on the back end of the track, followed by some beautiful vocals by Monáe. That track fades into the next track “Q.U.E.E.N” featuring Erykah Badu which is one of my favorite singles of 2013. The bassline on this track is freaking dirty funky goodness. The grooves on this song makes my shoulders move uncontrollably every time I hear it. Janelle seems to be focusing on how disconnected she and those like her are from the world. Her spoken word outro on the track has me convinced that she is more talented at rapping than 80% of the current hip hop landscape. The verse’s subject matter seems to be very closely related to the real world in terms of how we perceive those who are homosexuals, nonreligious, colored, poor, or just plain ol’ different. It’s probably the most powerful point of the album. The spoken word goes into the following track, “Electric Lady” featuring Solange Knowles. The song features some pretty heavy keyboard melodies and a very prominent bassline. Lyrically, Janelle is telling us what it is to be an electric lady. She delivers another spoken word/rap and once again, better than 80% of actual rappers. But what did you expect? This bitch is a bad motha.
“Primetime” is very much Janelle’s slow jam. It’s a smooth duet between Monáe and Miguel that details the feelings of some night time lovin’. There happens to be another sweet solo at the end of this track and this is all the more reason for me to love Monáe’s penchant for clashing rock, r&b and hip hop together. “We Were Rock & Roll” is a track that resembles the funky grooves of “Q.U.E.E.N.” and “Givin’ ‘Em What They Love” while “Dance Apocalyptic” seems more similar to her earlier work. It a track that happens to be so bouncy and colorful due to Janelle’s charisma on the track. Janelle’s influences seem to be extremely obvious on various tracks on this album. It seems as though she’s trying to display the entire history of R&B through this album specifically. It’s tracks like “Ghetto Woman” where the production sounds very Stevie Wonder-inspired. In other tracks like “It’s Code” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love” Monáe captures the essence of a young Michael Jackson. Both of which feature beautiful, pained vocals from Monáe as well as some woozy, soulful production. Janelle is essentially an R&B revivalist. She is to R&B what bands like Tame Impala and the Black Keys are to rock.
The “Suite V” side of the album seems to be more dedicated to slower, more emotional tracks. “Victory” is a power ballad that seems to get its inspiration from modern R&B. The production is very much on the hip hop side of the tracks but Janelle’s powerful vocals in sheer pain are absolutely unbelievable. “Sally Ride” is a track that seems to be Janelle’s take on homosexuality. Throughout the album’s many tracks it’s revealed that Monáe’s alter-ego Cindi is in love with another woman and on this track she uses lesbian female astronaut Sally Ride as a metaphor for Cindi’s sexuality and love issues. The closest thing Janelle gets to modern R&B and pop music is the album’s last track “What An Experience”. This track incorporates a lot of different elements that have been prominent throughout the album. It features some more Stevie Wonder inspired keyboard grooves as well as some Lauryn Hill-esque vocals from Janelle toward the end of the track. It’s a very faint ending to an album that can be best described as jam packed. It’s a fade into the sunset for Janelle, at least for now.
The Electric Lady, for better or worse, has everything and then some. It packs a punch, hits the heart and makes you groove like no other. I’m not sure if there’s a female pop artist around today who puts so much into their work as Janelle Monáe does. There are so many pieces to each song that she crafts and she’s slowly redefining the way women in pop music work or at least bringing it back to being about sheer artistry rather than image and controversy. She’s crafted a world that has so many little details and elements that you can’t deny her unbelievable talents. Before we go throwing her music off as too complex, she also displays how she can put together things that are immediate and accessible(Q.U.E.E.N, Dance Apocalyptic, Primetime). She’s not breaking ground in terms of sound, but instead in the way that female pop artists should look, create, and dream. She’s arguably the most ambitious female pop artist that we’ve seen in quite sometime and she’s made her own lane in modern music due to her wide array of influences from R&B’s golden age as well as her unique concepts. It seems as though the popularity of this electric lady is only rising and that’s an exciting thing for pop music. Power up! Power up!
Listen to “Q.U.E.E.N” by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu:
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013