Review Summary: 57821...It is now time...for you to come home my dear...The capacity of human intelligence seems to limit the capabilities to expand upon any possible creative aptitudes. Indeed, if one cannot even notice the facets that the ingenuities around him are comprised of, how can he be expected to fashion a beast of his own? This inveterate sense of constraint is a great blow to the veracity of mankind’s abilities. It restrains us and holds our minds to the ground below, averting any possibility of rising above ourselves to something greater; something not fathomed by the conventional mind. This concept of seeking to go beyond one’s self, known as “transcendence”, is essentially a gateway to unlocking pieces of ourselves that can lead to some of the most elaborate and significant creations of our world. For many, this quest to transcend and form creations that were once considered unthinkable and overwhelming consumes life. Certainly it is rare to find such people, but when they are found, creative barriers are destroyed.
Here we find Metropolis Suite I of IV: The Chase
, brainchild of budding diva Janelle Monae. What is essentially a familiar tale of forbidden love wrapped up in futuristic garb is spliced with genre-hopping musical accompaniment. The end result is a concept EP, firmly rooted in R&B and packed with enough bounce and surprises along the way to put a smile on nearly any listener’s face regardless of genre preferences. The story itself enhances the overall effect, but its understanding is in no way necessary to enjoy the material.
Introductory track “March of the Wolfmasters” sets the stage, introducing the listener to protagonist Cindy Mayweather and unveiling some reoccurring themes in the ArchAndroid universe. For those of you that don’t know by now, Cindy Mayweather is an android who has committed the cardinal sin of falling in love with a human (oh noes!). This warrants immediate disassembly as decreed by the Star Commission, and bounty hunters (wielding chainsaws and electro-daggers) are dispatched to capture her cyber-soul. Cindy flees to the seedy Neon Valley Street District, and thus the chase begins.
Space Opera is not exactly a subgenre that lends itself to a pop/r&b concept album such as Metropolis
, and would likely collapse under the weight of its own lofty ambitions if not for the undeniable vocal talents of its composer. Almost immediately, Janelle Monae grabs the listener’s attention with the quirky lyrics and staccato delivery of “Violet Stars Happy Hunting!!!”. Stepping into character, she announces I’m an alien from outer space…a cyber-girl without a face, a heart or a mind
. Apropos, as the sixteen minutes of music to follow is simply not of this earth. Janelle is armed with a fluid and soulful delivery, and employs an impressive array of harmonizing parts which simultaneously dizzy and delight the listener. This constitutes a somewhat “otherworldly” feel when blended with futuristic lyrics and some subtle electronics. Although the vocal performance is spectacular across the board, “Cybertronic Purgatory” is a particularly arresting example. This vocoder-laden lament finds a captured Cindy Mayweather calling out to her lost love in an impressive operatic falsetto.
What Janelle Monae achieves with The Chase
is a very special thing. That is, she creates a pop record that is gloriously unique without compromising her artistic integrity. Somehow she is able to spin an absurd tale of cyborg love in to something that resonates with the listener as elegant and refined. Maybe it’s the classy brass flourishes, but there is something about Janelle Monae that exudes a sense of timelessness that transcends genre and commands your attention. I suppose comparisons to fabled entertainers such as Michael Jackson and James Brown only serve to expand Monae’s appeal. Regardless of comparisons; you know that ineffable quality that separates an artist from a star? – Yeah she’s got it. She even uses a live band, infusing her music with passion and energy that translates to wax as well as it does the stage. It’s more than refreshing to see such a natural method of music making turn out so well amongst its peers in the climate of auto-tune-saturated digital tedium which constitutes the body of today’s popular music.
While The Chase
simply cannot compare to Suites II and III in grandeur nor scope, it stands on its own merit as a triumphant birth cry of an inimitable talent.