Webmaster and Music Staffer Roshan Krishnan reviews Janelle Monae's new album, The Electric Lady.
By now, Janelle Monae needs no introduction. The diminutive singer with the colossal voice released her debut album The ArchAndroid in 2010 to near-universal acclaim and quickly gained fame for her eclectic musical style, chameleonic vocal talents, and daringly quirky fashion sense. Her sophomore release, The Electric Lady, is more of the same- but better.
Monae seems to draw even more wildly from widely varying styles than she did in her first effort, yet somehow it never feels like an exercise in musicology or some kind of historical pastiche. Everything fits nicely into place, and you’ll likely find yourself double-taking as her music transitions seamlessly from ripping guitar riffs to horn-driven jazz to aggressive rapping- and that’s just in one song. The distorted guitar line that drives the beginning of “Givin’ Em What They Love” (played, fittingly, by Prince) wouldn’t be out of place in a Zeppelin tune, and Primetime’s indie rock “oohs” and “aahs” over an R&B beat that later swells into a gospel chorus make for an interesting juxtaposition. Eclectic instrumental touches such as this are commonplace throughout the album- make no mistake about it, The Electric Lady is one of the smartest and most musically engaging albums released this year. Songs range from the relentlessly funky “Ghetto Woman” to the gorgeous ballad “Look Into My Eyes” and everything in between. The album is peppered with “radio DJ” spoken-word bits that are faintly bizarre and threaten the flow of the album as a whole, but these are really the only misstep in what is otherwise an incredibly cohesive and musical body of work.
Lyrically, Janelle Monae continues writing thought-provoking pieces with common themes such as empowerment of the marginalized (pay attention to “Q.U.E.E.N.”), feminism, and sexual freedom. Interspersed are more than enough humorous touches to keep the underlying messages from feeling heavy-handed. Janelle has important things to say and she knows it, but she’s not so wrapped up in her message that she can’t put aside some time to shake it (and make you shake it too).
All in all, Janelle Monae’s second album is more refined, more intelligent, more off-the-wall, and perhaps even more funkily danceable than her first go-around, which was excellent in its own right. Fans of almost any musical style will likely find something to appreciate in this one.