Janelle Monáe continues “The ArchAndroid”’s sci-fi storyline on “The Electric Lady.”
While we might normally say that it’s a bit ambitious for anyone to subtly compare themselves to Jimi Hendrix in their album title, in the case of Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady, we’re not even a little bit mad. Janelle’s second full length, which is streaming now on VH1, has all the vocal pyrotechnics of an epic guitar solo, but leaves room enough for danceable R&B grooves, hip-hop, funk, soul, reggae, and film score touches. The latter fits in particularly well, seeing as The Electric Lady is a continuation of the sci-fi cyborg thematic storyline she began on The ArchAndroid.
We broke down the highlights track by track, which wasn’t easy to do, because, well, The Electric Lady HAS 19 TRACKS. More like The Electric OPUS.
Read our track-by-track review of Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady after the jump.
1.) “Suite IV: Electric Overture”: The Electric Lady’s brief introduction sounds like an old-fashioned cinema score, which seems fitting since there are enough guests on the album to fill the cast of a feature film. And with its surf guitar and antiquated choral lines, “Suite IV” is part spaghetti Western and part film noir.
2.) “Givin Em What They Love” (featuring Prince): It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is a Prince collaboration — we’d recognize that dude’s slow, grooving guitar stomps anywhere. By the time The Purple One shows up with a come hither falsetto, we mere mortals are powerless to resist the two-pronged attack. And yes, there’s a blistering guitar solo toward the end, not to mention some triumphant horns.
3.) “Q.U.E.E.N.” (featuring Erykah Badu): Janelle and Erykah Badu come together here for the powerhouse girl group team-up we never knew we needed. It’s a track that covers a lot of ground, from a sultry groove to cinematic strings, record scratching, mournful brass, and a spitfire verse.
4.) “Electric Lady” (featuring Solange): Wait, we take it back. As great as the Badu cameo was, it’s physically impossible for Solange not to instantly send any track she appears on into the stratosphere. The two trade verses on this swinging soul-funk number, with another burning few rap bars from Janelle, a hand-clap breakdown toward the end, and some absolutely filthy talk-box crooning.
5.) “Good Morning Midnight (Interlude)”: “Power up to the droid rebel alliance,” says the caller to the fictional radio show in the album’s universe. Got to say, even in a futuristic cyborg war, these folks still know how to have fun.
6.) “PrimeTime” (featuring Miguel): The cameo train keeps on rolling with this minimal bedroom track in which Miguel does his sexy Miguel thing. “It’s a prime time for our love, and Heaven is betting on us,” the two sing in multi-tracked harmony. “Prime Time” also manages to squeeze out a shredding guitar solo before segueing into another instrumental film-like outro.
7.) “We Were Rock and Roll”: Finally on her own, Janelle has more room to flex her pipes on this funk-pop track. Danceable, but still tugging on the heartstrings.
8.) “The Chrome Shoppe” (Interlude): Is it weird that this futuristic radio station is making us really, really want to build a time machine?
9.) “Dance Apocalyptic“: Despite the interlude introducing this track as a future hit, it’s the oldest-seeming song on The Electric Lady — but in a good way. It’s a snapping, swing-hop number, with a schoolyard double-dutch rhythm and vocal cadence.
10.) “Look Into My Eyes”: Hold on a sec, we take that back! This smoky ballad reaches even further into cinema’s soundtrack past. “Look Into My Eyes” is the type of song that wouldn’t be out of place in the first movie your grandparents went to see on a date at the drive-in.
11.) “Suite V: Electric Overture”: Leading in with an instrumental, orchestral variation on the motif from “Look Into My Eyes,” “Suite V” sounds like a funky ’80s game show soundtrack. Only Pat Sajak is nowhere to be found…
12.) “It’s Code”: Janelle beams back to the present on this heartbroken, breezy soul-pop number. (Or at least the version of the present where we’re all still enamored with the Jackson 5.)
13.) “Ghetto Woman”: Apparently there isn’t an era of cinema music that The Electric Lady HASN’T covered. “Ghetto Woman” bounces and bubbles along on slap-bass and a a disco guitar-pulse that feels like the heartbeat to a ’70s b-movie about coming up in the ghetto. A rapid, dexterous rap busts in toward the end before all hell breaks loose.
14.) “Our Favorite Fugitive (Interlude)”: Robot love, it turns out, is frowned upon by a certain segment of the society. Not cool, you guys. Robots are people too! Or are they?
15.) “Victory”: “Keep singing songs until pain goes,” Janelle sings over a shuffling drum break. As fun as all the genre-hopping is throughout, it’s on the more personal-seeming songs like this that she does her best work.
16.) “Can’t Live Without Your Love”: We’ve been trying to avoid the comparisons this whole time, but this is definitely the most Beyoncé-sounding number of the bunch, with multi-tracked vocals that rest atop a minimal rhythm and swinging, Euro-lounge string melody.
17.) “Sally Ride”: Nope, spoke too soon on the Beyoncé comparison. Your girl is running melisma circles over yet another lounge arrangement, only this time it’s broken up by some more guitar hero antics.
18.) “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” (featuring Esperanza Spalding): Esperanza Spalding shows up toward the end for one of the album’s jazziest numbers, which continues the album’s latter-half nightclub lounge vibe. Also, this is definitely the only recent example of jazz scatting be-bop vocals that we’ve liked in a WHILE.
19.) “What an Experience”: Not sure why we’re surprised, but turns out there’s room for one more stylistic detour on The Electric Lady’s final track. With this song’s reggae-style rhythm and horn lines, it’s a soothing palate cleanser after so much intense romance.
+ Listen to Janelle Monáe’s The Electric Lady.
Photo credit: Atlantic Records