From the spirit that her music carries, to the mind-boggling spectrum of sounds she covers, to the sheer essence and superb skill of her voice, it was always obvious that what Janelle Monáe had in mind for us would be something truly out of this world. But seriously, the woman isn’t even 25 years old yet and her music is the kind of stuff that legends dream about years in advance before making. “But I’m another flavor, something like a terminator” she sings on her Big Boi-featured “Tightrope,” sly rhyme and all, she certainly is an entirely new flavor.
After her 2007 EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), with her different look, her different approach and her different methods, Monáe took almost three years to gather herself. And though she’s always been positioned and aided by Big Boi, Monáe still had a lot to prove, to herself and everyone else. On The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III, Monáe brings forth all of her strengths into one tremendously affecting album of soaring highs. The aforementioned song is about the ‘highs and lows in life’ (the figurative and the literal ones, sure) and how we’re always teetering on the tightrope and while Monáe does a lot of teetering herself – boldly combining segments of psychedelic rock with chamber folk, for example – everything seems to be right on pitch.
Explanations aside, this is a collection of compositional works that are all crafted with the utmost musicianship in mind. Each song diverts from a new theme and style, from what the previous song called for, and each song ensures it always delivers fascinating arrangements, varied instrumentation and tones and an impeccable force of a voice. Whether she’s belting out her words like some sort of rock heroine (“Come Alive (The War of the Roses)”), or lushly whispering in our ears (“Say You’ll Go”) like Mariah Carey before her, Monáe’s pipes are always, the star of the show. Truthfully, this is quite the accomplishment when the rest of her music is as good as it is on here.
Cycles flash in and out, as if you are taken witness to her magnificent theatre production about the mastery of robotics and their effective accompanying synthesis on the human brain. Consistently bringing forth synths and keyboards in her music, her words highlight an entirely metallic world where we can all live as one, machine or not – it just happens to all come in the most fashionably eclectic manners as possible. Noticing that this is her official debut solo LP, Monáe makes sure to keep the guests to a limit but even when they pop up, like Saul Williams on the official opener, “Dance or Die,” they also know when to stay out of the way; after the last chorus, the music reveals a guitar solo before pushing forth a drum beat into Monáe’s rapidly dashing ways on “Faster,” as she continues, faster and faster.
With “Oh, Maker,” we have a love song in the form of a folk-strung strum that continues from the back to the front; deeply romantic, the story’s narrator sings to her maker about the love he provided her with. Yes, it’s about a creator in the form of Frankenstein (Monáe even lists her personal inspirations in the liner notes for each song) but it’s also about the universal feeling of love and there’s nothing more focused on love than Stevie Wonder and his obvious influence on the funky, disco-led “Locked Inside.” And still, nothing ever feels forced or over-exposed to the light. Though Monáe is doing everything she can to keep the album from shining too much, the stars align on the most magical moments.
Through the different flavors of ice cream on here, The ArchAndroid: Suites II and III remains a proudly boastful album. It should be discussed by a lot of people and the love it’s receiving is no fluke either: this is a skillfully talented artist. Monáe answers her doubters with every new song and in that same manner, she wins over our hearts, each and every time.