Three years after she injected her creatively monumental debut, The ArchAndroid, into the vast world of pop, Janelle Monáe releases the much-anticipated follow-up, The Electric Lady. Her first LP utilised with the concept album methodology that many thought was long dead, focusing on her alter-ego Cyndi Mayweather, a messianic android. Taking as much from Fritz Lang’s monumental film Metropolis as Prince’s stylish grooves and David Bowie’s eccentricity, Monáe was an appreciated creative gem even before her debut dropped, subsequently signed to Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs’ Bad Boy Records and further championed by heroes like Prince (who features on this album) and Big Boi.
Her second album continues on her first effort, adding the next two suites and building on the Cyndi Mayweather concept. The Electric Lady pulls in the same inventive strain, doting to a variety of R&B and funk influences to give Monáe’s music that inventive punch – and boy does it work. Her trademark hyperactive energy is apparent, but it doesn’t bluster in your face; her defiant rap at the end of ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ irks passion and edge, though a swooning orchestral arrangement underlies it, a contrast the song’s fierce chorus.
Monáe has always been considerate and ambitious about her craft, though not to the point of being overblown and pretentious. Sure, the swagger of ‘Q.U.E.E.N.’ contrasts to the gospel bop of ‘Electric Lady’, but they fit seamlessly together despite one following on from another, much like Cold War and Tightrope on her debut; it is a box of many musical delights. But unlike its predecessor, The Electric Lady feels more intimate and more accessible.
Monáe has always used her electric eccentricity to her advantage in her music, but here she allows the humanity to shine through more; “I don’t want to be mysterious with you”. This is jotted intermittently throughout the nineteen tracks, with melodious numbers like ‘We Were Rock & Roll’ and the gorgeous closer ‘What An Experience’ punching through Wondaland’s bright lights.
The Electric Lady continues Monáe’s innovatory belief further, though not as far as she would hope; though undeniably fertile, her hype in the lead-up to its release has hardly helped the album to breathe on its own accord – only time will tell if it endures. But what Monáe has created here is a gorgeous, multi-layered barrel of treats that marks her out as a unique force in contemporary music and will continue to prove her uniqueness as she rises further to the top.
Watch this space.