Album review: Janelle Monáe - The electric lady

Janelle Monáe - The electric lady | Random J Pop

When Janelle had released her first EP Metropolis: The chase in 2007, she had embarked on creating a world that she'd tell the story of through follow-up albums. Janelle's second full length LP The electric lady marks the 4th and 5th parts of a 7 part story, preceded by The ArchAndroid marking parts 2 and 3. But what is much more evident on this album in comparison to The ArchAndroid is that Janelle is ready is ready to meet at that point where the fictional Cindi Mayweather ends and she begins. This isn't just Cindi's story, but its Janelle's.

Janelle's sexuality has been in question for years now and The electric lady remains vague on the matter. But whilst this album may be short on Janelle's sexual preference, it's rich on sensuality. The electric lady isn't a story about robots and gizmos. It's a story about love. The reminiscing of love ("We were rock 'n' roll"). Love with a significant other ("Primetime"). Love and appreciation of hard-working mothers ("Ghetto woman"). Watching somebody else fall in love ("Dorothy Dandridge eyes"). Every single song on this album is a love song and is all inclusive. Janelle's sexuality doesn't matter here, because she serves sensuality in spades, which colours the songs so much more than her explicitly stating whether she wants to ride a dick and part some pussy with her tongue. Love is love regardless of its source and whom its directed - which is the crux of the whole story between the android Cindi Mayweather and her human lover Sir Anthony Greendown. Plus, it's none of our fucking business.

The electric lady is an album about love. This shouldn't come as a surprise given the musings of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince and Marvin Gaye across this album. All of whom were about the message of love.

Whilst there is the overarching theme to the album, which is the fictional Metropolis, the songs each stand on their own and are relatively void of any droid talk. Where-as The ArchAndroid felt as though each song was part of the story being told, The electric lady instead slots interludes in-between songs, the songs of which actually have no direct context to the whole Metropolis story.

Janelle could have stripped this album down by a few tracks and the album would not have felt any lesser of an effort. This isn't a dismissive ushering off to the colourful world Janelle has spent the past several years painting. More a testament to how good the individual songs are and that they work without any over-hanging narrative other than that which exists within each song. If Janelle decided to scrap suites VI and VII in the ArchAndroid story, I honestly wouldn't care. In fact, I'd say it'd be for the best. You can hear it within the music that this whole story had little bearing on the songs Janelle wrote for this album anyway.

As much as I admire Janelle's tenacity for telling a story, this album should have been cut down to just a lean 13 songs or broken into 3 EP's and released over the course of a year. The electric lady sprawls on for a little too long. The pacing of the album, the occasionally baffling track order and the numerous interludes smother the brilliance of songs such as "Victory" which doesn't immediately jump out as the likes of "The electric lady" and "Dance apocalyptic" do, purely because of their tempo and where they sit on the album.

The electric lady provides a much more consistent listening experience then The ArchAndroid. Where-as her previous effort felt very obviously divided between suites II and II, The electric lady maintains a consistency musically and thematically across both its suites. The track order is a little janky however. The album only really starts to get into is stride from the mid-point onwards. But by this point you may be fatigued by the uptempos and a couple of the albums weakest moments being top-loaded.

The electric lady is a solid sounding album. But it doesn't push for anything new in terms of Janelle's sound. What it makes up for in consistency and setting a tone, it lacks in the variety that The ArchAndroid was speckled with. But I'm okay with this, as there's a comfort that comes with this on The electric lady. Janelle sounds much more confident on this album, which is a large part of what sells the sensuality of it. She appears to have found a sweet spot on this album. But after an EP, guest features and now 2 LP's, I feel like I'm ready for more of Janelle's layers to be stripped away.

As was the case on The ArchAndroid Janelle tributes acts she admires and there's no mistaking who she's paying homage to. "Ghetto woman" sounds unmistakably like Stevie Wonder in his Songs in the key of life phase. "It's code" sounds like the Jackson 5. The wildly out of place "What an experience" sounds like Marvin Gaye's "Sexual healing". Each instance is well produced and nails the style of the originator, but we've heard Janelle do this before. And as good as these songs are, I'm ready for Janelle to move beyond them. I want Janelle front and centre within her own sound, not wrapped within somebody else's and playing the tribute act for 50% of an album.

If you liked The ArchAndroid you will like The electric lady, but may find it initially underwhelming. If you didn't like The ArchAndroid you may still find something to like here, as whilst songs do pull at a few of the threads which were established on it predecessor, it presents a very different tone.

There's nothing on this album which made me fall in instant love the same way that The ArchAndroid's "Faster" and "Locked inside" did. My love of The ArchAndroid is what forced me to listen to this album multiple times and stick with it. I'm glad I did, because gems did eventually surface. But this may be more play-throughs and chances than many are willing to give an album that doesn't hook them on a first listen from an artists who manage to do as such with their previous releases.

I wish Janelle had given me more varied sounds and more of herself. I'm ready for the Cindi Mayweather story to be retired. But we may need to savour this shit. Because with another 2 suites to go and Janelle seemingly having abandoned music for the silver screen, who knows if we'll get anything anytime soon at all.

RATING: 6.5 / 10

Album highlights:
■ Electric lady
■ We were rock & roll
■ Look into my eyes ★ J's fave
■ It's code
■ Ghetto woman
■ Victory
■ Dorothy Dandridge eyes

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