Album review: Janelle Monae’s ‘The ArchAndroid’
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On Janelle Monae’s major-label debut, the 24-year-old, ragingly talented singer and dancer from Atlanta by way of Kansas City synthesizes a wealth of influences — Afro-futurism, glam rock reminiscent of David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars, ’50s easy listening, MGM-style orchestrations, bebop jazz and slickster-hip hop. If that’s an exhaustive list — and it’s not complete — imagine what it sounds like all marbled together on Monae’s concept fantasia, “The ArchAndroid.”
Loosely telling the story of Cindi Mayweather, an android fulfilling her destiny on planet Metropolis, Monae channels every mood, from the contemplative splendor of “Oh Maker” to the freak-out of “Come Alive (The War of Roses),” which finds our femme-bot veering between hysterical belting and near-whispers. On one of the album’s singles, “Tightrope,” with its addictive video and Big Boi contribution, Monae turns in a stylish performance that’s all strutting but mellifluous flow.
With 18 tracks, “The ArchAndroid” is parts two and three of a four-part series that Monae has envisioned; she released the first part as an EP in 2007, in the process snagging a 2009 Grammy nomination for her performance of “Many Moons.” At times, the fumes of ambition are so thick off “The ArchAndroid,” it’s hard to absorb in one sitting.
All the same, it’s a star-making debut. Monae has the same high-wattage potential as Lady Gaga, her spiritual sister in costume and outlandish concept, though the complexity of her vision is ultimately more rewarding. Expect to see Monae soon, with her customary hair pouf and in some glamorous black and white getup, playing to $10K seats at the next art museum benefit near you.
— Margaret Wappler
Bad Boy Entertainment/Wondaland
Three and a half stars (Out of four stars)
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