Review Summary: Original, catchy, honest, and couragous, Janelle Monae's full length debut is a masterpiece of modern music that quite frankly makes most pop today seem timid and shallow.
Upon first hearing about Janelle Monae and her soulful, virtuosic voice I did not expect to like The ArchAndroid
at all; in fact, if you were to show me a list of the current Best New Music on Sputnik I would have deemed The ArchAndroid
one of the lesser albums prior to listening. Not only is pop and R&B not really my forte, a concept album about a futuristic android involving a mesh of genres and a buttload of ambition seemed a recipe for disaster.
My, oh my, was I wrong. Janelle Monae's debut tour-de-force is absolutely jaw-dropping; from the cinematic, orchestrated opening overture to the depths of love and space and back, Monae croons and dolefully belts out fantastic lyrics over a pallet of musical adventures. It is
almost too much to take at times, yet The ArchAndroid
never flies off the handlebars: instead, it utilizes Monae's powerful pipes by never letting the music get in the way of her ambition. It is quite the complement.
It has been a while since an album came along with such daring honesty, such confidence in that whatever wacky idea Monae has up her sleeve it will more or less work. The finale of the longer and overall better Suite II, "Mushrooms & Roses" depicts this perfectly; a late Beatles-era psychadelic prog-fest that Monae knows exactly what to do with. While many of today's contemporary pop artists are much too worried about their new hairstyle or album sales, Monae shows great understanding of music and how being creative is worth a lot more than materialistic ideals. The ArchAndroid
feels like one of the first pop albums in years to not be afraid of shooting for the stars.
Although it's quite apparent who and where she gets her influence and inspiration from, Monae creates quite unfamiliar songs while still keeping intact the previous artists' work that have launched her. "Sir Greendown", with its medieval tones and heartfelt lyrics (lines like "let's leave in an hour, meet me at the tower, I'm in love" ooze passion) feels simultaneously done before and completely original and the result is staggering. "Say You'll Go" recalls Stevie Wonder's golden days with a heartbreaking, futuristic piece that could very well find its way up my Song of The Year ladder. Another remarkable effect of The ArchAndroid
is how many of the songs have an ethereal part or feel to them, like the "oo oo oo oo's" after the intial explosion of "Come Alive", or most of "Oh, Maker", that somehow make an album as ambitious and out there as this feel down to earth and personal. I almost see myself sitting in a church late Christmas Eve listening to many of these songs.
As with many instant classics in music, The ArchAndroid
dazzles on first listen and stays in your mind for days on end. Original, catchy, honest, and couragous, Janelle Monae's full length debut is a masterpiece of modern music that quite frankly makes most pop today seem timid and shallow. The ArchAndroid
easily finds it place among the best albums of the year and certainly one of the best pop albums in recent time. Janelle Monae should be a force to reckon with for some years ahead.