Six years ago, Janelle Monae stepped onto the scene with a vision and a purpose. She felt that RnB needed saving, and a little bit of imagination. Through her music, she created the Metropolis saga, a Sci-Fi fantasy world where androids exist, subservient to the human race. Her music documents the journey of Cyndi Mayweather, as she goes from fleeing android refugee, to messianic rebel hero. However, newcomers need not understand the lore behind Monae’s music. With her latest album, The Electric Lady, she continues to expand her vision, taking it into more personal levels through some seriously rocking tunes!
While pop radio is currently pushing retro RnB, Monae unleashes an album that is simply overflowing with soul and funk, making it sound effortless. This isn’t just a retro inspired sound…this is classic. And yes…there is a difference.
It simultaneously takes us into the future, and into the past…a past where RnB delivered heavy doses of funk, flirted with psychedelic rock, got down with disco, and sang with soul. These are the musical colors that Monae uses to paint her vision, and thanks to her Wondaland production team, its a very vibrant picture. Full and lush instrumentals characterize every track on this album. From the classical overtures that begin each half of the album to the wailing guitars of Victory, and the funky bass of Q.U.E.E.N, each song simply comes alive with sound.
Through out the album, Monae uses her Cyndi Mayweather alter ego not to hide behind fantasy, but to explore reality. The narrative of this album sees both Cyndi and the Android community coming to terms with their own self actualization and empowerment. This is shown through radio show “interludes,” where Androids empower each other through greetings of “Power Up!” and are subsequently targeted by jeers of “Robot love is queer!”
Just as the Androids are struggling for acceptance, much of the album takes on a LBGT friendly vibe. In lead single Q.U.E.E.N., Monae explores her sexuality, culminating in a proclamation of “Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”
Opening with Suit IV of the saga, we are taken to Metropolis’s seedy underground, where the Androids are free among their own kind. Givin’ Em What They Love has a deep bass and psychedelic beat that shows Monae putting her strogest foot down with tons of swagger and a little help from Prince. Following tracks Q.U.E.E.N. and Electric Lady continue the dark but lively and funky tone with some serious grooves. They are unapologetic calls for acceptance…from both self, and society.
Things slow down for a minute with the touching Miguel assisted ballad, Primetime. However, they quickly pick up with the heartbreaking disco ballad We Were Rock and Roll, and the toe tapping single, Dance Apocalyptic. This promises to be the standout of this album with its busy and energetic sound, powerful vocals, and catchy calls of “Crash! Bang! Ka-lang-a-lang-a-lang!”
Suit V is much less vibrant than the previous, but is no less significant. Its here that Janelle’s most personal and intimate lyrics are revealed, proving just how much she’s matured as a songwriter and an artist. Ghetto Woman serves as a tribute to Stevie Wonder, with vocal delivery and keys that are obviously inspired by the man. Autobiographical songs like Can’t Live Without Your Love and Victory are absolutely moving thanks to Monae’s powerful vocals, and heart wrenching lyrics. Finally, What an Experience looks back at all of Monae’s victories and failures with a warming smile, ending the album on a positive note.
Overall, this album is the clear mark of a visionary. With few skippable moments, The Electric Lady is truly a masterpiece. Each song shines on its own, but when placed into the bigger narrative, they become positively epic. Just how epic, you ask? I’ll end with this excerpt from the album jacket…
Perhaps each and every one of us that hears and loves and shares these songs is truly already at war, fighting for the freedom of a future generation. One can only hope….
Power up, brothers and sisters.
Final Score: 5/5