REVIEW: Janelle Monáe’s “The Electric Lady” breaks groud while paying tribute to classics

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Maybe Janelle Monáe is an android after all. After listening to her second studio album, The Electric Lady, you may begin to wonder if her fictional character Cindi Mayweather is actually who Monáe really is; a heroine, leader, freedom fighter, and of course, an android. With The Electric Lady, Monáe paints a picture so vivid and beautiful that it could influence your reality for the better.

Monáe appears to have three objectives with this album: to break boundaries musically, promote social equality, and to further develop the story of Cindi Mayweather. Monáe says she wants to “fight against the marginalization of R&B and soul music, and get rid of this notion that everything needs to be in categories.” In order to fulfill what she set to accomplish, The Electric Lady incorporates catchy beats, stimulating guitar riffs, sweet orchestral strings, sultry synthesizers, and obviously her patented rhythmic and classically trained vocals.

Janelle Monáe has made it clear that The Electric Lady “is an anthem for anybody that has ever felt discriminated against.” She goes on to explain that she wanted to draw the parallels between women, the gay and lesbian community, as well as “the excommunicated, the untouchables, and the immigrants.” She says, “We wanted to have an anthem for the underdog.” She achieves her goals with powerful songs such as “Q.U.E.E.N,” “Electric Lady,” and “Ghetto Woman.”

The Electric Lady also gives a strong backstory to Cindi Mayweather. In Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase), we first learned of Mayweather, who is an android in the year 2719. This android fell in love with a human, which is forbidden by law, and was scheduled for ‘disassembly.’ In her first full-length studio album, The Archandroid, Mayweather was running away and trying to escape. During that adventure, she discovered that love isn’t exclusive, but everyone must learn to love each other, androids and humans alike.

Now, Monáe gives us Cindi Mayweather’s background and all that happened leading up to the time she fell in love with a human. The Electric Lady features suites four and five of a now seven-party series suite. After “Suite IV” Monáe unleashes “Givin Em What They Love” which features an outstanding, catchy guitar riff, setting the tone for a danceable album. Prince is the first collaborator on the album, and sings the second verse on the song, backing vocals, and plays bass. Monáe sings with a raspy voice, “Baby, take your time / I want to give you some love,” before Prince unleashes an unbelievable, earth-shattering guitar solo. After the solo, horns come out of nowhere, which brings the song together as a whole.

“Q.U.E.E.N” is an incredibly dynamic song that opens with another guitar riff, but has some 1980’s style synthesizers throughout the hooks. Erykah Badu makes an appearance during the interlude, setting up a final rap verse for Monáe. In her verse, Monáe calls out the critics with, “Categorize me, I defy every label.” With her opening tracks, she certainly does that.

Janelle Monáe dives deep into her feelings towards women’s power with “Electric Lady.” I believe this is anthem for women’s right, as she portrays Cindi Mayweather is a powerful figure, and also alludes to Joan of Arc, Mia Farrow, and her own mother. In a sense, Monáe is trying to relate the intrigue and power of Mayweather to the power that woman yield, even if they don’t know it. Musically, the song will have you singing and dancing during the breakdown portion at the end of the song – “Ooh, shock it, break it, baby / Electric Lady, Electric Lady.”

The interlude “Good Morning Midnight” features a caller saying she is going to party at the club and break rules “in honor of Cindi Mayweather.” This interlude leads into “Primetime,” which is a slow and sexy atmospheric song featuring gorgeous vocals from R&B artist Miguel. During this song, Cindi is with her human lover, and each verse is essentially foreplay in the club, as they lead up to making love and “breaking rules” later in the night, which works as the guitar solo climax.

“Dance Apocalyptic” is The Electric Lady’s version of “Tightrope.” Monáe says this song is influenced by Bo Diddley, which is no surprise considering its upbeat, bluesy beat, as well as the up-and-down guitar strumming throughout the song. When she plays this song live the crowd will be dancing wildly, just like Janelle Monáe does in the music video.

The album begins to take a turn away from the rock and R&B hybrid style sounds, as Janelle Monáe seems to be writing a James Bond theme with two tracks, “Look Into My Eyes” and “Suite V.” She turns the clock back to the 1950’s with the sensual “Look Into My Eyes,” featuring Spanish guitar, organ, and her classically trained vocals. Heading into the instrumental “Suite V,” Monáe continues the same theme from the previous song before it turns into what sounds like a theme song from any classical action movie, such as James Bond. Shut your eyes and you can almost see Monáe in the movie, right alongside Sean Connery.

After “Suite V,” Monáe pays tribute to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder with “It’s Code” and “Ghetto Woman.” “It’s Code” brings up thoughts of MJ’s Jackson 5 era, with swishy guitars, moody synthesizers, and a very laid back beat.

“Ghetto Woman” is another anthem for women across the world with lyrics like “When you doubt if you’re a star, just know we still believe / Even when the news portrays you less than you could be / You’re the 7th wonder reigning over us at night.”

Musically, the song brings up memories of 1970’s Stevie Wonder with its synthesizer and bass, as well as its disco beat. This song could’ve been a hit in the 70’s but remains fresh in the year 2013 because of Monáe’s sensational rap verse in the middle of the song. After the verse, Monáe’s guitarist Kellindo Parker sends the song into cyberspace with an epic guitar solo as the song fades away.

“Sally Ride” is arguably the strongest song on the album. Monáe brings us back to the 1960’s with a Beatles-style format, with guitars and horns filling the empty space between the lines of each verse. Cindi Mayweather cries out, “I wanna feel the real love / True love, ain’t nobody got to steal love / Wanna know what it really means to be in love.” By telling the story of android and human interrelationships, Monáe cleverly portrays the story of those “outsiders” that she says this album is written for. All people really want to be able to do is love freely, and that is what “Sally Ride” is all about.

It has always been peculiar that a unique artist such as Janelle Monáe hasn’t had more of a following. However, after her collaboration with fun. on the three-time Grammy-nominated song, “We Are Young,” should draw much more attention around the globe with The Electric Lady. Not to mention that Monáe has been able to successfully collaborate with artists the magnitude such as Prince, Erykah Badu, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel. The Electric Lady should definitely compete for album of the year because of its unique sounds, creative story, and positive message. Maybe even androids from the future, just like Cindi Mayweather, will hear this record and love it.

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