Music Review: Janelle Monae, “The ArchAndroid”
In its sprawl, depth and miraculous facility with all things pop, Janelle Monae’s “The ArchAndroid” recalls Prince’s mid-career masterpiece “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” and it is only her first full-length album. Monae possesses an elastic voice and a brain to match — she can sing jump-blues and funk with as much ease as she brings to madrigals, late-‘60s pop and a stunning disco-soul song that doesn’t just evoke Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You,” but is its equal.
Held together by a loose story about the rise of 28th century droid Cindi Mayweather, “The ArchAndroid” never suffers from oppressive concept or overreach — its 18 songs can survive and thrive on their own. The set begins with a remarkable trio of uptempo soul-pop rave-ups, “Dance or Die,” “Faster” and the aforementioned “Locked Inside,” which is so evocative of Jackson’s classic period it could pass for a Quincy Jones-produced outtake. The first single, “Tightrope,” floats effortlessly on tight funk riffs and Monae’s ultra-sassy soul shouting before the singer downshifts for “Oh, Maker,” a superb ballad in which Monae displays Mariah Carey-style range with Marvin Gaye-style intelligence.
Kudos to Monae for ensuring that “The ArchAndroid” never inflicts sonic whiplash: her box of tricks is packed with incongruous styles — she even collaborates with Of Montreal on “Make the Bus” — but the songs transition beautifully. By the second half, she is quoting seamlessly from Claude Debussy’s “Claire De Lune” on “Say You’ll Go” and engaging in bright, irresistible electro-pop (“Wondaland”) before closing “The ArchAndroid” with “Babopbye Ya,” an 8-minute orchestral swing opus. Unless the heavens open up with something world-saving, “The ArchAndroid” is the must-have pop album of 2010.
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