Review Summary: Screw Cindi Mayweather.
A lot can change in the span of five years. Since releasing The Electric Lady
in mid-2013, Janelle Monae has shifted her focus away from the fantasy world she created for herself, and has focused more on building her career and tackling important social issues. While it is cool to see her acting career take off, and it is impressive to see her label, Wondaland Records, grow into an empire, many fans were left wondering when she would return for her grand finale of the ArchAndroid
saga, as foretold by the empty dots on the cover of The Electric Lady
. But, while it is “ArchAndroid orchestrated,” Dirty Computer
is not the continuation of the saga fans were expecting. Instead, Dirty Computer
exists as a response to our current dangerous political climate, and cements Monae’s status as an icon for women’s rights.
The political undertones of Dirty Computer
are made clear from onset of the first full track, “Crazy, Classic, Life,” with a small excerpt from the preamble of the Constitution, highlighting the phrase “the pursuit of happiness.” This idea is at the core of each song on this album. She fights for the right to live hedonistically, specifically when it comes to sexual promiscuity. From my perception, one of Monae’s intentions is to make the public more comfortable with the lifestyles presented, as a way a to stand up for a younger generation that is forgoing traditional relationships for more open ones. She accomplishes this by taking on a pop-centric style to her music, with hooks that get stuck in your head.
Musically, Dirty Computer
is a cutting edge pop-rock album with a huge repertoire of influences ranging from classic rock and jazz-fusion, to indie-pop and Americana. The Prince influences throughout the album are striking, as he did have a role in production before he passed away, but modern inspirations such as Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories
can be seen as well. Many songs have a robotic cadence to them, as if sapient androids are somehow coming up with the music. “Screwed” blasts open with a polished and filtered guitar tone, which quite literally sounds like an electric screwdriver. The musicians do a great job at filling in the gaps with nice little fills to keep your eardrums thoroughly entertained, as in album highlight “Don’t Judge Me,” where the instrumentals match perfectly with Monae’s sensual crooning. The melody of the intro to the album is also reprised at the end “I Got the Juice” and “Don’t Judge Me,” keeping the musical ideas connected and flowing nicely.
Unfortunately, there are a few aspects where Dirty Computer
is a bit rough around the edges. Conceptually, Monae dials down the ambition considerably, as a means to reach a wider audience. In most cases, she pulls off the new pop-star gig, but her lyrics come off as much more vapid than in her previous efforts. There are a number of songs where she spits a few bars, which can be grating, as it doesn’t really fit into her vocalist skill set, and you are left wishing she had stuck to singing the whole album. While the pop production is polished throughout, there are a few songs that seem out of touch stylistically with our current pop culture climate, especially near the end of the album with the bluesy and overly long “So Afraid,” and the hyper-patriotic “Americans.” The last problem case is “Take a Byte,” which sounds so similar to “Electric Feel” by MGMT that I feel like she might be looking at a lawsuit.
Taking a step into the pop scene is never easy for an artist with ambition, especially when it comes to the possibility of alienating your fanbase. With Dirty Computer
, some fans may feel betrayed, as if Monae is selling her gift for music to be relevant in pop culture. But I think that her reason for making this album wasn’t only to make more dough, but also to get an important message across that she feels strongly about; to stand up for kids being labeled as deviants by the older generation, all as Freddie Delaney put it, “to a sweet, sweet groove.” One can only hope that one day we see the grand return of Cindi Mayweather, but until that day, screw her, I’m gonna jam out to Dirty Computer
Make Me Feel
Don't Judge Me