I’VE SEEN the future and it will be… funky.
The Tripod hosted one of the best gigs of the decade so far in 2011 when Janelle Monae and her Archorchestra brought their monochrome style into full techicolour glory in support of the previous year’s debut album, The Archandroid. Recalling the theatrical and musical perfection of Prince’s unsurpassed 1986 Parade tour, the show was a classy lesson in bringing an audience on a dance journey and having them screaming for more at the close.
The anticipation of Janelle’s next step was set, and she has not disappointed with her sophomore release, The Electric Lady.
The album represents the fourth and fifth suites in a seven-part arc that started with her debut EP, Metropolis, and continues the themes of outsider empowerment and identity, with all of their attendant racial and sexual associations being subtly addressed.
Monae’s strong presence flows through all of this almost-conceptual album – the over-arching concept is there, but doesn’t overwhelm the sheer enjoyment of this 68-minute journey into Monae’s imagination and easy familiarity with an array of styles that melt into something simultaneously fresh and familiar.
Starting with an orchestral overture before locking into its first groove, The Electric Lady is clearly influenced by Prince, evidenced early on with his appearance on Givin’ Em What They Want.
Monae’s opening lines on that track – “I am sharper than a razor… They want me locked up in the system, coz I’m on a mission” – is a statement of intent. She clearly wants to use the platform she has created to break out of what she percieves as a conformist agenda for black women in music and make something that will connect with audiences everywhere.
Monae’s imagination and style has the potential to propel her beyond the norm, and make her one of the biggest acts on this planet, and possibly planets beyond this one as well.
The Electric Lady’s futuristic setting recalls Parliament/Funkadelic and Sun Ra at times, and John Barry and Burt Bacharach’s smooth easy listening stylings at others, the musical melting pot is bubbling and nothing is left out of the mix.
With funk, jazz, classical, loungecore, girl-group, funk and rock inflections appearing, sometimes within the same songs, Monae and her Wondaland band’s ease with all of these styles and polished production make this an unmissable treat.