Desribing what Janelle Monáe’s debut full-length album The Archandroid is not might be an easier task than explaining what it is. Conceptually and musically, this multi-facted, genre-mashing masterpiece has everything you could want in an album and then some. And Janelle’s supernatural vocal range is as chameleonic as the songs she sings. It’s been a while since an album excited me enough to do a proper track-by-track review, but you must hear this one…
A follow-up to Janelle Monáe`s 2007 EP Metropolis Suite I: The Chase, The Archandroid is an unusual concept album telling the adventures of a mythic “ArchAndroid” named Cindi Mayweather (Janelle’s alter-ego) who time travels from 2719 to 1954. The liner notes give cryptic clues to this inner workings of this fantasy world as well as varied and bizarre external inspirations behind each track. Among Janelle’s listed influences are Star Wars, Rachmaninoff, Bob Marley’s smile, Stevie Wonder’s sunglasses, James Brown’s cape, Jack White’s mustache, Frankenstein’s monster, Arthur Lee, and various Disney movies.
However, despite the imaginative and detailed theme (and the seamless flow between certain tracks), knowledge of the album’s concept, origins or many ingredients isn’t required to enjoy it. Good music stands on its own.
The dramatic instrumental “Suite II Overture” ushers in the wild epic. Then “Dance Or Die,” which features Saul Williams, churns the futuristic neosoul of Zap Mama with the frenetic rap rhythm of Busta Rhymes’ “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See.” This melts seamlessly into “Faster,” which blooms from gentle retro pop into a clap-propelled, gospel-infused dance beat.
“Locked Inside” has a mellow R&B vibe that sounds like Estelle covering The Jackson Five, “Sir Greendown” softens into an ethereal, old-fashioned pop style, and the soaring “Cold War” is waiting to be the theme to the next James Bond film.
One can’t help but wonder which came first in “Tightrope”: the guest spot by Outkast’s Big Boi (who co-produced the album) or the clapphappy “Hey Ya” arrangement. Either way, the song is a major highlight on the album.
“Oh, Maker” is a more straightforward, pop-polished R&B ballad akin to Corrine Bailey Rae or Alicia Keys, but that’s as ordinary as this album ever gets.
The stand out track “Come Alive (The War of The Roses)” deliciously marries creepy Diamanda Galas wails with punked up rock bombast. It’s the new “Girl Anachronism.”
“Mushrooms & Roses” has a languid, muffled, almost psychedelic kind of mood. It’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” meets “Purple Rain.” Of Montreal appears on the electro-funk track “Make the Bus,” which sounds more like a collaboration between Placebo and George Clinton.
“Wondaland” dives back into the disco-to-synth transition of the early 1980s, then “57821” (with guest Deep Cotton) eases into a soft, Simon & Garfunkel folk melody. And “Say You’ll Go” has a lovely string and piano variation on Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.”
Prince recently announced that Janelle Monáe will be a guest on his upcoming “Welcome 2 America” tour, of which he said “Bring friends, bring children, and bring foot spray, because it’s going to be funky.” Tour dates have yet to be announced.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3, but you can hear samples at the links below…