Janelle Monae’s third full-length album, The Electric Lady, is more a landscape than a collection of different songs. With thematic elements of her last album, The Archandroid, woven carefully into her trademark melodic pop/R&B style, Monae impresses yet again.
“Suite IV” and “Suite V,” which serve as the opening and middle tracks of the album, respectively, set the time and place for the rest of Monae’s work — a distinctly afro-futurist one, at that. Majestic yet grounded in the patterns of early blues, deep, symphonic string-based melodies float across a more languid guitar theme that picks up for the rest of the album.
Monae brings you on a journey around her new world, stopping in the early 80’s with her catchy, girl-power title anthem, “Electric Lady.” Featuring Solange, “Electric Lady” proclaims the glory of the singer and an unspecified listener:
Once you see her face, her eyes you’ll remember,
She’ll have you fallin’ harder than a Sunday in September.
Whether in Savannah, in Kansas or in Atlanta
She’ll walk in any room have you raisin’ up your antennas.
She can fly you straight to the moon or to the ghetto,
Wearing tennis shoes or in flats or in stilettoes,
Illuminating all that she touches, eye of the sparrow,
A modern day Joan of Arc or Mia Farrow,
Classy, sassy, put you in a razzle-dazzy
Her magnetic energy will have you coming home like Lassie.
Among the many other repeat-worthy tracks on The Electric Lady, we have the sensual, pulsing “PrimeTime,” featuring R&B crooner Miguel. You’ll want to play this every night. With low, moody vocals punctuated with goosebump-inducing harmonies, “PrimeTime” promises to be a slow jam for a new generation.
The next track, “We Were Rock n’ Roll,” is a disco-era dance jam calling past love back to life, with masterfully paired string accompaniments and a driving, upbeat guitar. Monáe’s poignant lyricism also renders each track ripe with symbolism and real-life relevance. “When you cry, don’t you know we’re right there crying with you?” she sings in “Ghetto Woman.” Monáe not only lays down beautiful music, but also cleverly weaves in messages relevant to the current struggles of women, and specifically women of color, everywhere.
The interludes, constructed to be radio shows from Monáe’s fictional world, further settle the listener into a time and place. In “Good Morning Midnight,” she calls to mind the daily life in the fictional, dystopian android society that couches the Cindi Mayweather storyline. Born in her critically-acclaimed (but sadly, mostly unknown) debut album The Audition, the Cindi Mayweather story follows Monáe’s alter-ego, an android, as she falls in love with a human, Anthony Greendown. Shunned by the Droid community and made Public Enemy #1 by the Droid Police, Cindi’s journey continues throughout The ArchAndroid. We who are following the storyline are provided with plenty of background information in The Electric Lady, but the story itself takes a backseat to the music — brilliance as usual.
The diversity of track types and of musical guests makes The Electric Lady an artistic masterpiece, eclectic yet fluid, with each track a different artistic endeavor that still manages to be cohesive. A futuristic feat, indeed.
– Sydney Magruder
Sydney Magruder is an African-American/multiracial femme lesbian sociologist, ballerina, bibliophile, writer, and green-tea addict about to enter her last year of undergraduate studies at Skidmore College. She wants to write, teach, critique pop-culture, and use music, theater and dance as a means of educating the masses about race, sexuality, gender, and how young people can change the future. Until she figures out exactly how to incorporate all of those individual things into one giant thing, you can find her in ballet class, hunting down a new pasta dish to make, or hogging her family’s Netflix account with Doctor Who and Parks and Recreation.