The fourth and fifth suites of Janelle Monáe’s metropolis concept are entitled The Electric Lady and with an arsenal of styles and flavors, it’s clear that Monáe is an undeniably gifted artist. Much like suites two and three, The ArchAndroid, the music on here is a remarkable blend of funk, soul and R&B unlike any other. With so much music that is incredibly concentrated and still, flying high off her tremendous storyline, Monáe packs everything in with superb skill and the penultimate suites to her wondrous android world are dynamically fresh and downright exceptional.
Split into two halves, the fifth suite is a nod to straight-up R&B and its many facets and many influences, while the first half contains the fourth suite in a looser, diverse array of styles. Monáe has gone all in with her range of colorful sounds and furthermore, all in on her concept where a world of droids stand up for their rights to be treated as equals. An obvious metaphor to today’s society and a similarly challenging battle for equality, Monáe continues to deliver poignant music that is incredibly raw and genuine. The album features interludes in the frame of mind that would cause lovers of 3 Feet High and Rising to smile from ear to ear and these nineteen tracks are dissimilar from The ArchAndroid but still every bit as moving.
Kicking off the second half, “It’s Code” recalls Michael Jackson and Monáe sounds versatile as she’s backed by a doo-wop style of call and response; her voice is forcefully yearning as she sings to her romantic lover. Then, on “Can’t Live Without Your Love,” she’s supported by some stylish strings and a smooth guitar that shimmers underneath her beautifully gorgeous voice. Ending it all with “What An Experience,” Monáe is clearly channeling feelings of wishful thinking where any kind of love regardless of sex, race or culture should not only be accepted, but embraced. The songs feature everything from simple snapping fingers, backing vocals that almost beguile a gospel influence and instrumentation that is both complimentary and effervescent: the fifth suite blends everything from Jackson circa the 70s, to Stevie Wonder, to Prince but Monáe makes it all sound blissfully fresh with sounds that are pointedly brilliant.
The first half takes a different road to success with songs that contrast each other in the best possible way. Still singing very much about the challenge of love, “We Were Rock & Roll” is about an unbreakable bond that showcases a churning guitar that sounds, fittingly so, like Prince fused with Nile Rodgers, as Monáe struts her rock visions into something that is still very much pop. Immediately before that we’re gifted with one of the best duets of the year as Monáe sings with Miguel on “Primetime” – each singer is left to sing the verse and chorus before joining in unison. And on “Q.U.E.E.N.” Monáe delivers a song that was released as a single a long five months before The Electric Lady’s release that somehow, still sounds neatly in place on the first half. Featuring Erykah Badu, Monáe is still the star with a synth-heavy style that showcases her rapping skills to ensure we all understand exactly where she is coming from. These sounds are still indebted to the R&B she features in the second half but with more of a focus on fleshing it out into something swooning and still, very much all her own.
In the end, Monáe is supremely in control of an album that flexes all of her strengths with impressive results. Her concept is in highly refined control and her utter capability is on full display from her choice of collaborators, her choice of producers, to her sheer singing prowess. Unwilling to confine herself to social norms, Monáe should be widely celebrated by all; she’s the kind of artist that keeps an ear to the past for magical influences, while maintaining an ear out to the future for sounds that are ahead of her time. Stellar and superb, The Electric Lady is a fantastic journey filled with impeccable works of modern flair and skill, power up indeed.