Review Summary: A smooth blend of neon lights, radiant brass, and of course, electricity. Drink it up.
It may be oversimplifying it and even somewhat degrading to say that the search for a seemingly effective formula for good pop music has been found; "formulaic" is actually exactly what plagues the modern pop scene, in which look-alike synthetic divas belt out (with ample voice correction) soul-less and scarily predictable love songs backed by all the necessary plastic packaging to placate the commercial gods. It is with entirely non-ironic pomp that cookie-cutter pop stands haughtily over the legacies of what the genre used to be. To slightly mince words, today's stars and the music they produce are a heavily neutered and perverted version of the olden days when art was something to revel in for the sake of itself, and when money seemed like just a by-product of talent. 2013 has seemingly brought this matter to a head as a slew of albums of very questionable artistic integrity were unleashed. Remember Will.i.am's "#Willpower"? Yeah, that happened this year.
It seems almost common sense that because modern 2000's era pop utilizes a trite sonic palette, it'd be more prudent to borrow inspiration from the olden age when pop was soulful and smooth. Various elements that result in a pretty damn good pop album seem to include: a soul-inclined singer, borderline retro instrumentation, and a kind of artistic indulgence that is rarely found in a genre that has shamefully become something trite and generally unimaginative. It was seen on Justin Timberlake's monolithic "The 20/20 Experience", which was as unorthodox as a modern pop release by a popular artist could have been. And on Janelle Monae's "The Electric Lady", the lady herself goes above and beyond to craft a veritable pop epic. And it really is Janelle Monae's album. Everything on the album is slick and shiny, but instead of plastic it's a sleek, chrome plating that it's coated with. Featuring a versatile, soulful, and playful voice that sings almost hazardously acrobatic at times and uncannily seductive at others, "The Electric Lady" is the culmination of everything that the fabulous Ms. Monae has strived to achieve during her illustrious but under-the-radar career. The twenty-eight year old's futuristic epic is loaded with pleasantly organic throwback production and the very essence of her embodiment as the definitive electric lady is nearly impossible to tune out. While it seems like the sheer amount of ideas on the album could cause a very anticlimactic flop, instead the whole spectacle comes together in a very balanced out and cohesive eruption of lush songwriting and focused yet wide-reaching concepts. Even the guest features, among them Prince (to drop a big name), are artfully executed. Interspersed with powerfully infectious tracks, humorous interludes, and Monae's trademark sass, it's a powerful concoction that also turns out to be a very admirable achievement; it transcends the boundaries of its normally vapid genre almost effortlessly with a kind of pomp that feels definitely well-deserved.
And of course she's excellent live. Monae is able to reproduce her album on stage with such a bombastic flair that she is almost irresistible. Her frenetic dancing, complete with jaw-dropping footwork and the borderline perfect synchronization of her body with the music, give the impression that her art courses through her veins. It empowers her, it fuels her, it electrifies her; it's a kinetic whirlwind that manages to be graceful but still bewilderingly mesmerizing, unlike the phenomenon of fully clothed sex that the Miley Cyruses of the world call "dancing". Her commanding stage presence solidifies the electric lady's status not merely as an artist, but as an entertainer. The infectiously smooth sound and the furious movement are all integral parts of the Monae Android, but no matter how robotic she will, perhaps ironically, claim to be, Janelle Monae is far more genuine than her contemporaries - that is, if she even has any.