Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady
Gaga may be promising the evolution of popular music with her 'artpop' but she might feel a little sheepish after a listen to Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady. A guest spot on fun.'s 'We Are Young' brought her to mainstream attention last year, but Monae has been on the radar of everyone from Prince to Fritz Lang fans following her debut 2010 long-player The Archandroid, a concept album that established the singer's penchant for crafting ravishing suites combining the best elements of traditional R&B with, well, just about everything else. A psychedelic bric-a-brac of genres, astonishingly it worked - and Suites IV and V match it for consistent but controlled craziness.
Following an inevitably grandiose overture, Monae's electric credentials are validated with the guitars on 'Givin Em What They Love', which also features Prince doing his thang on verse two. The album's top half boasts an enviable guest list: Erykah Badu adds even more sass to the girl-power funk of 'Q.U.E.E.N', Miguel slow jams on 'Primetime' and Solange joins in on the old-school groove of the title track, which is truly infectious and deserves triple props for featuring a rap that references Mia Farrow. Despite the flash guests though, this is Monae's show and that show is one that is forward-thinking but retro; sometimes a Spaghetti Western, sometimes a soundtrack to the Droid Rebel Alliance's uprising, sometimes something that harks back to the soul greats but with a futuristic twist. As with its predecessor, it's so brimming with ideas, creative energy and the joy of song that you may burn out before you can complete a first listen. But The Electric Lady will beckon you to listen again and again, until you're convinced that every track is a vital piece of the jigsaw and that Monae is something of a master - android or not.