Janelle Monae-The Electric Lady

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2013 has so far been a great year for music. It seems like every week I’m crossing off another solid album that I’ve been waiting to hear. Behind The 20/20 Experience, The Electric Lady has been my most anticipated album of the year. I knew back in April when “Q.U.E.E.N.” debuted that the album would be amazing. My enthusiasm reached critical mass when I saw Janelle and her band play live with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra back in May. Since then I’ve been checking every day for a leak or stream of the album. Finally, yesterday, VH1 of all places, posted our first opportunity to hear The Electric Lady in full.

The thing I was looking forward to most was hearing Monae’s song with Prince. It’s very rare that Prince agrees to do any kind of guest work (I mean, he’s Prince. He does what he wants.). Good grief is “Givin’ Em What They Love” a fantastic song. It plays to Monae’s sci-fi aesthetic while also giving a nod to Prince’s mid-80’s run of pop hits. I don’t remember Janelle ever singing with the wild abandon she does here, and I think Prince just brings that funkiness out in people-and if you know her music, you know she’s pretty much the funkiest lady around already.

The Prince collab runs straight into “Q.U.E.E.N.,” and it’s almost too much at once. After the first time I heard this song, I named it the song of the year. It breaks my heart that all the kids have been inundated with “Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky,” but 90 percent of them haven’t even heard this. It touches on gay rights, racial tensions, and sexism but it never loses the ability to make you dance.

It’s almost hard to keep up with the first quarter of the album. From Prince to Erykah Badu, then we get a guest spot from Solange before we hit the most recent single from the album, “Primetime,” featuring Miguel. I’m no Miguel fan, but “Primetime” is a really good track. It feels like a suped-up version of Whitney Houston’s “If You Think My Eyes Are Beautiful” with Jermaine Jackson. Two things that really stand out about “Primetime” is the spaciness around the vocals-at times the two voices seem like they’re communicating across dimensions. The guitar part does very little for most of the song, but it comes out in splashes-like in Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids.” This will definitely get added to my “Slow Jamz” playlist.

After “Dance Apocalyptic” ends, The Electric Lady takes a bit of a turn away from the pop-heavy style of the first half and gets a little more out there. While the beginning feels like a throwback to avant-pop 80’s music, we get a touch of Songs In The Key Of Life in the back end. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is an interesting transition. “Victory” definitely reminds me of “Have A Talk With God” mixed with Ice Cube’s “It Was A Good Day.”

Through nine tracks of The Electric Lady, the album is varying degrees of brilliance. The one drawback in the first half is the short intro at the beginning and then two interludes (there’s a third one later). On an album that’s already an hour long, these don’t add much and honestly hinder the listening experience more than they add. On their own merits, they’re fine. It’s a radio DJ of the future taking calls and chatting with the sisters of Electra Phi Beta about a party featuring “Cindy Mayweather,” the android character Monae plays on the album (humans and clones welcomed after midnight). I imagine if Deckard is listening to the radio in his flying car during the Blade Runner sequel, “DJ Crash Crash” may be a good personality to play the voice.

The second half isn’t quite as strong, but I wouldn’t call it weak either. There are some really good songs like “Dorothy Dandridge Eyes” which features Esperanza Spalding. And I’d put “Ghetto Woman” above “Dance Apocalyptic” and “Primetime” as far as my favorites go. Even if I don’t love every aspect of The Electric Lady, I’m glad Monae continues to be ambitious in her music. She’s definitely talented enough to do just about anything, so I’m more than happy to endure a couple stumbles to get all the great songs included here. You can pick up the album September 10th, and I highly recommend that you do.

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