Review: Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

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In a recent video, Anthony Fantano (a.k.a theneedledrop) addressed the question regarding music and image. While music and image have always gone together to some degree, it is pretty much agreeable that if the image eclipses the art, then the music will have a short lived shelf life. There have been musicians who have let their antics outshine their talent (i.e. Kanye West), as well as those who strictly live for the spotlight (ummm…Miley Cyrus?). However, in the midst of all the pandemonium, there are artists that use their music, along with a strong visual concept, to weave together a memorable narrative.

Janelle Monae, with the release of The Electric Lady, continues to expand upon the eccentricity displayed on The ArchAndroid. The result is one of the most ambitious R&B/pop albums this year, one that mixes rock, soul, funk and dance fusion all together for something truly grandiose.

Monae is not scared to tell a story, which is apparent from the opening track “Suite IV Electric Overture”, a continuation from her previous album. Right off of the bat, we can see that The Electric Lady is set to have a variety of sounds, with guitars shreds that are akin to a 1960’s James Bond soundtrack. This is the perfect precursor and transition into the second track on the album, “Givin Em What They Love” which features Prince, a clear influence on Monae and a more than appropriate collaborator. The song expands on the opener before exploding into the catchy-as-hell chorus (GIVIN WHAT CHA LOOOOOVE), with both Monae and Prince shining beautifully in terms of both vocals and performance.

Throughout the rest of the LP, Monae continues to take the audience on a whirlwind of a journey through space and time. On songs such as “Primetime” featuring Miguel, Monae stays along a more contemporary route, right before dipping back into retro territory on songs like “We Were Rock and Roll”. Highlights on the album, such as “It’s Code” and “Can’t Live Without Your Love”, shows that Monae can display variety in terms of being reclusive and laid back while still maintaining that retro future sound. If there are any complaints about the album though, it may seem too derivative for some people and/or it may be too spontaneous. While all of the songs presented here are appropriate for the confines of the theme of the LP, the tracklisting at some points may not make for a cohesive listen.

To tell the truth, I did not expect to enjoy this album as much as I did. It is good to know that this late in the year, there are still great albums being released by artists from all different walks of life. The Electric Lady is a rollercoaster that delivers on all accounts from subject manner, to production, songwriting and performance. Don’t stop listening to this thing. Sha-bang (a-lang, a-lang).

Favorite Tracks: “Givin Em What They Love”, “It’s Code”, “Suite V Electric Overture”, “Can’t Live Without Your Love”
Not-So-Favorite Tracks: “We Were Rock And Roll”, “What An Experience”, “Primetime”

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