Review Summary: She's on fire.
Exciting music lends itself to exciting discussions. While the talks about Janelle Monae’s latest record have been predictably revealing, only one sentiment about The Electric Lady
has stuck with me-- this is the warmest Monae has ever sounded. On Suites II and III of The Archandroid
, the soul diva found herself contending with multiple themes via innumerable musical styles. Some of it was flashy, and other parts were subtle. Yet, at the end of the day, the album balanced itself quite well across its hour-long-plus runtime. For everything this album’s predecessor accomplished, though, it felt inexplicably frigid. It was The Archandroid, sure, but it didn’t sound like Janelle Monae
-- just the caricatures she was talented at conjuring up.
I’m not sure the musician sees her previous work in that critical light, but either way, her latest effort is a full-fledged step towards relatability. This record is inviting in all the right directions; while its predecessor best fit the reverb of concert halls, The Electric Lady
would be right at home performed in a snug and smoky bar on Vaudeville. Much of this has to do with production-- Monae further acquaints herself with organic instrumentation this time around-- but on the same token, even she plays a bigger part here. “PrimeTime”, a smooth-as-silk lover’s ballad, shows off Monae’s voice at its peak and makes it evident that she’s only singing for herself. And while “Given Em What They Love” may have been an odd choice to open the album, it kicks into high gear with Monae’s shrieks of “Take your time!” It really does take a charismatic queen to outshine Prince’s cameo appearance on the tune.
The Electric Lady
is comprised of two suites, just like the album before it. But this time around, both movements are more thematically uniform: Suite IV is where Janelle Monae blows away the audience, and Suite V is where she coaxes them back to their seats. The fifth suite is leisurely, offering one slow jam after another-- absolute gems of ballads like “Can’t Live Without Your Love” probably shouldn’t be placed between similarly paced tracks-- but it does wrap up the album in intelligently well-thought-out fashion. It makes more sense once putting The Electric Lady
’s second half in context, to see the suite as the thematic counterpoint to Suite IV’s balls-out approach. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see Monae as focused as she is throughout this release.
It’s true that this is the warmest Janelle Monae has sounded in quite some time; her music now is more a magnifying glass than a mask. But no matter how many times androids are mentioned on this record, and regardless of how clear the Q.U.E.E.N. makes it that this is soul music with a political heart, all I hear is our favorite pop star finally letting us in.