The Electric Lady
(Bad Boy Records)
The first of Janelle Monáe’s natural strengths (and by default, tragic flaws) lies in her eclecticism. Like her studio debut, The ArchAndroid, The Electric Lady is a delightful romp through pop music conventions, shifting seamlessly from massive symphonic pieces to radio bangers and exercises in funk. Her knack for various forms of art-pop recalls the brilliant Purple Rain-era Prince, who’s featured as the first of many badass guest vocalists that include Erykah Badu, Big Boi, Miguel and Solange. Perhaps most impressive of Monáe’s diverse aural appeal is her ability to hone her broad lens within the aesthetic of Afrofuturism, a genre-less, Afrocentric celebration of sci-fi, cosmic figures and futuristic technologies. The powerful femme-bot figures partying their way through The Electric Lady communicate and add to the manically fun Afrofuturism of Outkast, Basquiat, Parliament and Sun Ra.
The second of Monáe’s strengths lies in her ambition. On The Electric Lady, Monáe separates herself from much of contemporary Bump-N’Grind-Let’s-Fuck R&B, instead pursuing a motivated, tight, hour-plus record that’s still radio-friendly. Like Prince, D’Angelo and Kanye, Monáe seems to treat her albums as a venue for storytelling rather than a collection of musically similar ideas or singles held up by a pile of filler. Luckily for us, Monáe and her meticulous production team aimed for the becoming side of Monáe’s dual traits of eclecticism and ambition, and they were right on target.