Thematically following on from Janelle Monaé’s debut LP The Archandroid (and her EP released before it), The Electric Lady gives us suites IV and V in the story of her android sci-fi concept character Cindi Mayweather. Amping up nearly every aspect in her domain, the 68 minute album is a more dense record than The Archandroid.
Monae remains in unique in retro-futurist territory, she dances and prances around her influences. ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’ is a pure slowed-down Motown ballad, the ’80s reggae softness of the Lionel Richie meets UB40 ‘What An Experience’, ‘Ghetto Woman’ channels Stevie Wonder, ‘Look Into My Eyes’ is a pure Bond theme song, ‘Dance Apocalyptic’ does the ‘Hey Ya!” ’50s jittery pop thing and throughout the album’s 19 songs, there’s Parliament-esque psychedelic funk, nods to Outkast, cinematic classical strings, disco, R&B, jazz, soul and radio skits. Yet, Monae’s ability to display her these touchstones while putting her own timeless stamp over it all is one of the reasons why she’s such a magnetising artist.
Suite IV, the first half is probably the stronger of the two, the second half suffers slightly from too many similar songs. The 19 track album could lose a few tracks ‘Dorothy Dandridge Eyes’ and ‘Victory’ aren’t bad songs by any stretch, but they retread the same mood as other tracks and less effectively.
Monae’s vision still ties a variety of genres and ideas together across more than an hour of material. That’s down to the entertainer’s razzle dazzle. She’s got Prince, Erykah Badu and Solange on the album yet none of these names step in front of the Archandroid herself. Monae and her voice, a beautiful versatile instrument is the center of this universe.
She’s capable of ballads, being the prowling punk at the party, the funky weirdo, anti-establishment rapper, pop queen, femme fatale, electro-sophistifunky lady. She’s got star power. Even when sharing the billing with R&B singer Miguel on the brilliant sensual late-night R&B ballad ‘Prime Time’, there’s no eclipsing of Ms. Monae or Ms. Mayweather going on. Even bleeding PRINCE is happy to serve the Android.
About the only thing the album actually lacks is a uniting single like ‘Tightrope. However, taken as its intended whole, the entire sparkling album is more consistent than its predecessor.
Lyrically, Monae is much more on message than before. The album’s title embodies female empowerment, she references female trailblazers like astronaut Sally Ride, slave-freer Harriet Tubman and Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for an Oscar.
The Electric Lady is a celebration of equality and self-acceptance, a LGBT-friendly, sensually-charged all-dancing queenly bacchanalia. And Monae has the big electric personality to make it work on a grand scale.
Niall Byrne is the founder of the most-influential Irish music site Nialler9, where he has been writing about music since 2005 . He is the cohost of the Nialler9 Podcast and has written for the Irish Times, Irish Independent, Cara Magazine, Sunday Times, Totally Dublin, Red Bull and more. Niall is a DJ, founder of Lumo Club, event curator and producer of gigs, parties & events.